Telemedicine Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQs)

Telemedicine is the diagnosis and treatment of patients by a remote clinician using telecommunications technology like videoconferencing. But, there is a lot more to telemedicine and we’ve compiled a list of frequently-asked questions people ask us:

What is the difference between acute telemedicine and direct-to-consumer telemedicine?

Acute telemedicine occurs in support of a visit to the emergency room at a hospital, or admission to an ICU, with patients who need emergency care for acute conditions, such as stroke or heart attack. Acute telemedicine is often known as provider-to-provider telemedicine because the hospital physician or nurse requests a remote specialist to consult on the patient, in collaboration with the on-site care team. As such, acute care telehealth platforms must integrate with things like CT scanning equipment and onsite medical records platforms.

Direct-to-consumer telemedicine is vastly different. It is used by patients who need non-emergency care for a minor pain or injury for themselves or their children. Patients typically request appointments through a portal or on a mobile phone app.

In the broader world of direct-to-consumer telemedicine, patients schedule meetings with doctors in advance. But in an emergency, such as a stroke, an expert must be made available at a moment’s notice.

To learn more about these differences, view our infographic, Telemedicine Takes Flight: Navigating the Complexities of Acute Care.

What is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

Telemedicine and telehealth are often used interchangeably. However, most healthcare professionals define telemedicine as remote clinical care, and telehealth as educational and preventative care, such as provider training, continuing medical education, wellness programs, and other non-clinical services.

How is telemedicine cost effective?

Telemedicine can reduce the cost of healthcare substantially. It can also make providers more efficient, reducing time spent between patients either walking a large medical campus or driving to different offices or clinics. Telemedicine helps hospitals better utilize their existing clinicians and those physician groups who have privileges at the hospital. This is because providers can see some many patients by video conference for routine or follow up care. Or virtually step in to alleviate staffing issues in other hospitals or clinics.

When hospital patients can see a specialist immediately via telemedicine, their hospital stays are shortened, saving costs. Using telemedicine to keep tabs on patients for follow up care or with chronic illnesses can reduce hospital stays or risk of readmission, which can have financial penalties for the hospital.

What are some examples of telemedicine?

Synchronous: real-time communication between the patient and provider via computer or telephone.

  • Virtual Visits: Patient and healthcare provider connect over video, telephone or chat to discuss care. Primarily used for non-urgent care.
  • Acute Telemedicine: Hospitals bring in specialists on video camera to consult on emergent or complicated cases. Often used with telemedicine carts that are wheeled to the patient bedside. Uses include teleNeurology for suspected strokes and telePsychiatry for mental health patients in crisis.

Asynchronous: data, images, test results are recorded to share with the provider later

Remote patient monitoring: Patient provides health data using personal devices such as wearable sensors, implanted health monitors, smart phones and mobile apps. Healthcare providers assess data to monitor ongoing conditions or chronic diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Some ICUs are set up with “bunker models” that allow remote clinicians to monitor critical care patients in real-time.

Is a phone call considered telemedicine?

It depends on who you ask. Most suggest that both audio and video are required. However, many waivers were created during the pandemic and Medicare paid providers for Virtual Check-ins and eVisits which did not require video.

  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS): “telemedicine seeks to improve a patient’s health by permitting two-way, real time interactive communication between the patient, and the physician or practitioner at the distant site. This electronic communication means the use of interactive telecommunications equipment that includes, at a minimum, audio and video equipment”.
  • American Telemedicine Association (ATA): “telemedicine is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status. Telemedicine includes a growing variety of applications and services using two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology”.

What is telemedicine software?

Telemedicine software is the platform or technology infrastructure that allows private, secure, HIPAA-compliant and high-quality medical consultations via videoconference. The software typically has algorithms that help dispatchers choose, notify, and confirm the most appropriate clinician for the patient based on specialty, sub-specialty, hospital privileges, and availability timeframe. Telemedicine software allows providers to connect with patients, share video and images, as well as collaborate with other clinicians in real-time. It can be integrated with electronic health record and scheduling systems.

Virtual medical consultations are not like typical videoconferences. They must be HIPAA-compliant which means they must be secure and private. They must also provide clear high-quality video and audio of both clinician and patient. High-speed internet is required to ensure no interruptions or degradation of quality.  Telemedicine software platforms provide the infrastructure and technology required for medical use, unlike mobile phones or regular videoconference technology.

For more information on telemedicine software, please read The Essential Components of an Enterprise Telemedicine Platform.

What are the advantages of telemedicine?

Telemedicine can increase access to care in areas with shortages of specialists, or supplement during nights or weekends. Many hospitals don’t have all the specialists they need on staff and often have to hire expensive locum tenens providers or transfer patients to other facilities. But, patients and their families want to stay at their local hospital. There are many examples of how telemedicine can help:

To learn more about the advantages of telemedicine, such as enriching clinical expertise, easing financial pressures for hospitals, and making providers more efficient, read The Intelligent Guide to Acute Telemedicine.

What are the disadvantages of telemedicine?

Not every type of healthcare visit can be done remotely. Patients have to go to an office, clinic, or hospital for tests, blood work, and diagnoses that require a physical exam. However, when specialists are scarce or at a great distance, the onsite care team can serve as hands, enabling a great deal of care to be remote.

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