What is Telehealth?

By Robynn Lowe
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
March 22, 2022

Telehealth is probably a term you’ve heard more frequently recently.

While it has been serving patients for many years, these past two years have seen a dramatic increase in its use.

There are many forms of telehealth. Currently, the most thought-of approach is video chat with your doctor using a computer, smartphone, or tablet.

In this article, we will talk about what telehealth is, the types of care delivered using telehealth, the costs surrounding it, and how you can prepare for a visit.

Lastly, we will discuss the pros and cons and the difference between telehealth and telemedicine.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth refers to the overall use of digital information and communication technologies to deliver healthcare services remotely.

There are many forms of telehealth, such as:

  • Video conferencing call with your doctor.
  • Sending your doctor a picture of a skin issue you are worried about.
  • Watching a patient education video about how to manage your high blood pressure.
  • Using your online patient portal to check your recent lab results.
  • Something as simple as a text message reminding you of your next appointment.

All these scenarios and more fall under the umbrella term of telehealth.

The goals of telehealth include:

  • Make healthcare services more accessible for those who live in rural/remote areas, or those who have mobility issues
  • Provide easier access to specialists
  • Improve communication and coordination between patients, their doctors, and doctor-to-doctor.

 Types of Care

Currently, telehealth includes four different applications of delivering health services.

These are live video conferencing, asynchronous video, remote patient monitoring, and mobile health.

Let’s explore each one in-depth. 

Live video or chat conferencing 

This is what most people think of when they think of telehealth.

Live video conferencing is meeting with your doctor via an online call on a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

You can have a real-time face-to-face conversation with your doctor, and your doctor can run an assessment on you, all from the comfort of your home.

This may also be in form of messaging or “chatting” in real-time with a provider.

However, live video conferencing is not limited to just that purpose.

It is also used for doctor-to-doctor interaction when a specialist’s opinion is needed for a complex case.

This is especially helpful in remote ER or ICU units with limited access to specialists.

Education is also another purpose for live video conferencing.

Medical professionals can attend live online classes for continued education, or patients can attend live classes to learn about managing their health.

Asynchronous video (AKA Store-and-Forward)

Rather than being live communication, store-and-forward is when assessment information is gathered and then sent to the practitioner, usually a specialist, for review.

This is mostly done through secure email. Examples of store-and-forward would be MRIs, x-rays, pictures, and even a video assessment.

This use of technology benefits both you and your doctor.

It allows you to get timely care, and if needed, a specialist who may be states away can assist with your case without you having to travel extensive distances. 

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) 

Remote patient monitoring is when medical and health data is collected from a person in one location and is transmitted electronically to a medical professional in another location for review.

A wide range of information is transferred this way, including vital signs, blood sugar, weight, and EKGs.

The person monitoring at a remote location can review the information and decide if any intervention is needed at that time.

The data collection can be done in several ways, including implanted health monitors, wearable sensors, mobile apps, and smartphones.

This type of technology could allow you to be in the comfort of your home recovering from a hospital stay while still being monitored by your provider.

This reduces readmission rates and allows for older adults and those with disabilities to live longer at home, avoiding skilled nursing facilities.

Mobile Health (mHealth)

This is a newer form of telehealth that is growing rapidly.

It encompasses a wide range of uses, including text messages reminding you of your upcoming appointment, an app on your phone that encourages healthy behavior, or a widespread alert about a disease outbreak.

Policies are continuously being added or changed to keep up with this new technology and ensure that your medical information remains secure. 

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Costs of Telehealth 

The costs of telehealth depends on insurance coverage, the services you use, and your location.

Because of the recent increase in the use of telehealth services, insurance companies have been expanding what type of telehealth services they cover.

Reimbursement plans of private insurance companies, state Medicaid programs, and the federal government have all been evolving to incorporate the new use of technology.

State to state and plan to plan, coverage of telehealth services varies widely.

If you want to use telehealth services for yourself, it would be a great idea to call your insurance company and ask them what services they are covering. 

How to Prepare for a Visit

Preparing for a telehealth visit is a little different from preparing for an office visit.

Here are some steps to take to make sure you are prepared:

  • Add your physician appointment to your calendar
  • Decide which camera and device you will use to video or live chat; this could be a laptop, tablet, or smartphone
  • Test out your equipment before the visit
  • Try finding where your best internet spot is in your house
  • Set up a place where you can sit comfortably with good lighting on you
  • Remember to charge your device before your appointment
  • Prepare your list of questions for your provider

 Pros and Cons of Telehealth 

Just like anything else, there are some pros and cons to telehealth.

Let’s look at some of them.

Pros

  • Ability to speak with your doctor face to face without having to leave your home
  • Ability to get the advice of a specialist who does not live in your area
  • Better communication with your providers
  • Better communication and coordination of your health team
  • Getting help after hours 

Cons 

  • Any time technology is being used, there can be technical problems that arise (and these can be rather frustrating)
  • Because the visit is not in person, the assessment is limited, which could potentially mean you don’t get the accurate diagnosis
  • Some insurance plans don’t cover telehealth visits 
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Telehealth vs. Telemedicine

There has been some confusion about the difference between the terms telemedicine and telehealth, and truthfully, some medical professionals may use them interchangeably.

However, there is some difference.

Telehealth is a more universal term that encompasses the whole scope of remote healthcare services.

It incorporates not only remote medical treatment, but also non-clinical services such as continued education and administrative meetings.

Telemedicine more specifically refers to remote telehealth services.

This term is being phased out in favor of just using telehealth.  

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are examples of telehealth?
Telehealth is used in a wide array of settings, including general care, prescriptions for medicine, skincare, eye exams, nutrition, mental health counseling, and some urgent care treatments.
How does Telehealth work?
Telehealth encompasses a wide range of health care services. Video chat is what most people think of when they hear the word telehealth, even though it includes remote patient monitoring mHealth. Video chat is very similar to an office visit; however, it’s done from the comfort of your own home by using a secure online app to chat face-to-face with your doctor. Usually, insurance plans cover the visit like they would an office visit.
Is telehealth a video chat or a phone call?
It usually is a video or live chat so that your doctor can see you. This helps with assessment purposes. The chat is done through a secure online platform to keep your visit and medical information safe and secure.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Robynn Lowe

Robynn Lowe is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years in the medical field. Robynn received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Florida Atlantic University and has been practicing in rural family medicine since. Robynn is married to her college sweetheart, Raymond and they have three awesome children. When Robynn isn't with patients you can find her shopping, coaching her kids sports teams, or spending time on the water.

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