Centre for Telehealth

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth is a broad term that refers to the use of technology to enable the remote delivery of healthcare or promotion of well-being. It is just one part of ‘eHealth’ – a term that also encompasses electronic patient records and other areas of health informatics.

Under the umbrella term of telehealth, there are a range of specific applications, such as telemedicine, telecoaching and telemonitoring. One of the problems in understanding and using telehealth is a lack of consensus regarding terminology, and a tendency to use names interchangeably. Our descriptions below are suggestions only, and not everyone will agree with them;

Telemedicine – sometimes called teleconsultation – is the use of technology (usually a video-link) to facilitate health-related communication between practitioners or between practitioners and patients. Specific examples might be a multidisciplinary team videoconference or a neurologist assessing a patient with a suspected stroke in another hospital via a video-link (just to confuse issues, this latter example is sometimes called telestroke!)

Telecoaching is the use of structured telephone support to underpin assessment of need, behaviour modification or rehabilitation. Examples include telephone-based smoking cessation support.

Telemonitoring is the remote monitoring of vital signs and symptoms in people with acute or chronic conditions. The most common applications of telemonitoring are in patients with heart failure or respiratory conditions who are living in their own home. Abnormal findings are flagged by telemonitoring systems, alerting practitioners who can intervene early and – in some cases – avert the need for hospital admission.

These three examples are by no means the only applications of telehealth. NHS Direct and NHS24 provide examples of teletriage and specific recovery goals can be supported by telerehabilitation. However, the structure below does encompass most modalities of remote care.

Telehealth includes Telemedicine, Telecoaching and Telemonitoring

A term often associated with telehealth is telecare. Whereas telehealth often has a specific health-related goal (treatment or prevention of disease; promotion of well-being), telecare focuses on independent living.

Again, many different definitions exist, but broadly speaking, we see telecare as the use of technology to remotely facilitate safer, more independent lives. In this sense, telecare is just one example of assistive technology. Specific applications of telecare include personal alarms with remote support, monitoring of environmental alarms (e.g. smoke detectors) and automatic falls detection technologies.

The question of when telehealth becomes telecare (or vice versa) is not always clear-cut. For example, a system for preventing falls in the home could be seen as much as preventing ill-health and promoting well-being as it could be viewed as supporting independence and safety. For us, that lack of clarity doesn’t present a problem – instead, it highlights how the provision of healthcare and social care is intertwined and must be integrated.

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