What is Telehealth?

Doctor conducting a telehealth session with patient image displayed on mobile phone

The terms telehealth and telemedicine are often used interchangeably by the public, even though they describe distinct processes. In the most generic sense, telehealth and telemedicine involve conducting health care services remotely. The difference between the two terms arises when one examines the medical portion of telemedicine. The nuance isn’t just a lexicological typo, it ties a specific clinical component to the provided services. 

Telehealth, on the other hand, is more inclusive. Non-clinical activities related to education, staff training, healthcare administration, professional conferences, or patient-provider clinical services all fall under the telehealth label. Three of the main telehealth modalities are live patient-provider video sessions, the store-and-forward technique—which collects clinical data and sends it to a separate location for evaluation—and off-site patient monitoring that studies clinical data as it elapses in real-time.

History of Telehealth Services

The telehealth revolution found its footing in a 1925 science fiction premise, which questioned the possibility of remote-based medical procedures. Matt Novak of Smithsonian Magazine pointed to entrepreneur and author, Hugo Gernsback, who imagined a world where doctors could interact with patients using radio waves—an insight that has helped clinicians grow their virtual presence and deliver patient-centered care over the internet. 

Kane and Gillis (2018) found that 15.4% of physicians employed telehealth services as part of their healthcare delivery model in 2016, noting that larger practices—typically greater than 50 employees—substantially raised the buy-in for telemedicine. The American Academy of Family Physicians have said that telehealth services not only expand choice for patients, but they increase provider efficiency as well. The evolution of telehealth practice has many iterations ahead of it, but research suggests it already offers distinct advantages over brick-and-mortar services. 

Benefits of Telehealth and Telemedicine

 For patients who lack the means to reach medical facilities for treatment, telemedicine visits help them stay in touch with their medical team. Patient portals equip users with an on-the-go method for checking provider reports, lab results, or asking pertinent follow-up questions. Distance communication gives the gift of freedom, comforting patients who are undergoing stressful medical interventions. With telehealth platforms, providers customize their delivery system to meet patient and business-related parameters. 

Limitations of Telehealth Practice

The financial burden of acquiring, mastering, and implementing telehealth services can be great for individual practitioners. Economic uncertainty has been one of the biggest hesitations for clinicians interested in using a telehealth modality in their practice. Another economic concern is the lack of smart phone holders or internet connectivity in vulnerable communities across a provider's client load. With over 30% of rural residents in 2019 lacking access to a smartphone, emerging technology is not the only focal point for success.

State licensure requirements are another area of consideration for providers, as failure to obtain licensure—or in some cases, an out-of-state agreement—can upend a prospective telemedicine practice. Nine states currently offer special assistance for out-of-state telemedicine practice through their respective medical or osteopathic licensing boards. Twenty-four states, and the District of Columbia, follow the Federation of State Medical Board’s Medical Licensure Compact (IMLC) to expedite out-of-state license approvals. 

Tips for a Smooth Experience

If providers commit to a little legwork upfront, they can rest assured that their telehealth and telemedicine practices will be set up for success. There is no lifetime guarantee in the telecommunications field, but the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology have recommended prerequisites to take before connecting online. Reliable broadband internet, a video platform, reachable IT support contacts, and access to medical devices used in a patient’s care plan, are essential steps.  

Reimbursement policies are another grey area affecting the success of a telehealth or telemedicine practice. Avoiding common mistakes can save providers ethical, legal, or financial headaches in the long run. Participating in educational coursework, such as the THTC certificate program through the Telehealth Certification Institute, protects clinicians while they integrate best practices into their care plans.

 

Sources

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Technology requirements in telemedicine. (Discusses recommendations for using telehealth and telemedicine services).

Kane, K. C., & Gillis, K. (2018). The use of telemedicine by physicians: Still the exception rather than the rule. (Looks at the popularity, efficiency, and split of telemedicine services between medical professions). 

Novak, M. (2012). Telemedicine predicted in 1925. Smithsonian Magazine. (An article that highlights an unlikely visionary in the telehealth movement). 

Rural Health Information Hub. (n.d.). Barriers to telehealth in rural areas. (Examines how rural and underserved populations face limitations when accessing telehealth services via computer or smart phone devices).

The National Telehealth Policy Resource Center. (2018). State telehealth laws & reimbursement policies. (An overview of state telehealth guidelines with a focus on insurance reimbursements and licensure restrictions).

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This course was extremely helpful understanding the legal requirements for interstate telehealth counseling.
Donald Kirk Henderson
Licensed Professional Counselor / Milestone Family Resources
Wonderful free training. Helpful discussion on how to aid clients in breaking out of the negative thought trap.
Jaime Wright
I took the Board Certified-TeleMental Health Provider Training Certification Course in 2018, I feel so lucky to have found the TeleHealth Certification Institute. It's a top notch training center which has continued to provide me with tools and the knowledge to grow my private teletherapy practice. I recently participated in the TeleMental Health Preparedness Summit 2020 and was definitely not disappointed. The excitement and enthusiasm from the participants and TeleHealth Certification Institute staff is contagious. I've been inspired, since, to look into taking more courses, and joined their FaceBook group. I will likely join their consultation group in the near future. I don't believe there is another training institute out there that is as good as this one for everything telebehavioral health. Thank you Ray! You are a visionary!
Larissa Golloub, LCSW-R
Psychotherapist, solo practitioner / Larissa Golloub, LCSW
Very informative! Well organized! Takeaway- protect yourself- know your ethical code and standards/ be insured.
Brenda Staerker
Private practice / Thaxton Holistic Wellness
Amazing and relevant information conveyed over excellent format. This is a professional organization worth joining.
Summer Allan Wilson LCSW-S; Nationally Certified TFCBT
Pediatric Psychotherapist / East Texas Family Guidance Center
This course is providing me with valuable information that will be helpful in providing competent and effective services for clients.
Nancy Sweet-Holp, LMSW
Therapist / Liberty House of Albany
This course was very informative and very relevant to today's telehealth practices!
Keith Ayson
Housing Case Manager / Bridgeways
Thank you for an informational, relevant course to help me obtain my TMH certificate. Excellent presentation.
Tomica Horton
counselor/therapist / Jodi Province Counseling Services
Vey helpful and user friendly. Most importantly informative. Very good information to enhance an individual's practice.
La Keicia Boyd
Licensed Professional Counselor / Private Practice
Very informative. I learned things that I wasn't aware of about state laws!
Tamara Coleman
Counselor / Tamara Coleman Counseling LLC
Educational and informative content that was easy to follow and comprehend.
Scott Lipp, Ph.D., LMHC, LAC, NCC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor; Adjunct Professor / Greater Things, LLC; Florida Atlantic University
Necessary technological guidance!
Frances D Murdock
Easily one of the best online or in-person workshops I have ever attended. The information was unbelievably relevant to current practice with our students doing e-learning and having to provide online therapy and support. Thank you so much for this workshop and the information.
Vincent Amador
School Psychologist / Thornridge High School
This was quite beneficial. You explained well at a comfortable pace and you provided sufficient details for me to develop an Emergency Management Plan. Thank you!
Dr. STEPHEN KIURI GITONGA
This course was very interesting and allowing me to understand the way telementalhealth services need to work correctly.
Patricia A Hill
Mental Health Counselor II and LCDC, MAC / Central County Services

The course was very detailed and informative. It covered everything that is necessary to work with Tele mental health.

Cynthia Allison
Mental health Counselor / Friendly Therapy LLC
The course was so informative and I was glued to my screen for the entire duration. I received so much knowledge concerning ethics in telehealth and I am greatly encouraged to read about all the standards and policies that pertain to my practice. Thank you!
Bridgette Nalumu
Public health consultant / Green and Purple Consultancy Network
Great, course. Really helped me during this challenging time to connect with students.
Priscilla Robinson
School Counselor / Baltimore County Public Schools
The training was very informative, there was more in-depth information to the details of privacy and HIPAA on an electronic level that I was not aware of. The more technological part of it was new information to me.
Nellie Decker
Therapist II / Yakama Nation Behavioral Health
Brillant concept and a great way to support counselors as they transition into on-line therapy/services.
Bianca Abrams
License Professional Counselor / The Wellness Institute of Atlanta
Courses were very informative! Extremely helpful!
Carron D. Alexander
LPC / Premier Counseling Services
I really gained a deeper understanding of Telehealth. I think this course helps pave the way for success in our field. This was very convenient. I am so blessed to take a course like this during the crisis we are facing as a nation. This course really helps me perform at a high level for my job. THANKS!!!!!!!
Jackie Tanna
Therapist / Region One Mental Health
I learned a lot in this course and will put what I learned into practice when I move my home office space.
Raymond Corbo
Clinical Supervisor and Counselor / Redeemer Counseling Services
Very well done. Encourages active engagement in telemental health process while guiding effectively.
Chris Brotherton
Marriage and Family Therapist / Addiction Counselor / Brotherton Counseling LLC
The training was well structured and presented by a knowledge individual. Information shared in the training was useful, clear, and concise and can easily be incorporated into future practice techniques.
Dora Falls
LPC, MAC Private Practice - / Private Practice
This course was eye opening and highlighted some definite areas for improvement to better address emergency management planning.
Nikkita Scott
Director of Counselling & Student Activities / Bbermuda College
Very informative training, instruction was clear and easy to follow
Jill Bogan-El
Therapist
It was one of the best courses I’ve attended; clear, well-structured, creative, transparent and professional! Bravo.
Elizabeth Tramonte, PsyD
Private Practitioner / Elizabeth Tramonte PC
This course is more comprehensive than all the other HIPAA courses I've taken combined.
Michelle R. Gould, LMHC
Mental Health Counselor