Study: 7 Different Federal Definitions of Telehealth

A new study published in Telemedicine and e-Health explores seven unique definitions of telehealth currently in use across the U.S. government.

The study found within HHS many of the definitions used were similar. Both CMS and the ONC define telehealth as the use of telecommunications and IT to provide access to health assessment, diagnosis, patient care and information.

However, the Agency for Health Research and Quality stated it generally adopts definitions as they fit the problem resulting in an ever-changing definition of telehealth.  AHRQ said as technology changes, the given definition of a given term may change to be more inclusive or more focused depending on the intent of the user.

For departments not within HHS, some agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture focused on the actual technology used in their definitions of telehealth. The USDA defined telehealth as technologies, such as electronic information and telecommunications, that ensure the availability of quality healthcare services, education and healthcare information to rural America.

 Meanwhile, the National Institute of Standards and Technology uses the American Telemedicine Association's definition, and according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, telemedicine should be given "with the intent of providing the right care in the right place at the right time."

The Indian Health Service highlighted some of the technology used to transmit information in its definition. IHS said the "telehealth toolkit encapsulates real-time videoconferencing, store-and-forward consultation, secure messaging, remote patient monitoring and mobile health services."

The study's authors noted "although many definitions are similar, there are nuanced differences that reflect each organization's legislative intent and the population they serve." 

The definitions examined in the study were found by 26 agencies represented by more than 100 individuals who participated in the Federal Telemedicine Working Group. Those individuals responded to a survey on each agency's definition and use of terms associated with telehealth.

Realizing the need for a uniform federal definition of telehealth, the Telehealth Modernization Act was introduced into Congress in December 2013 and seeks to establish a federal definition of telehealth and clear up the confusion.

More Articles on Telehealth:

Iowa Bill Seeks to Clarify Telemedicine Licensure, Reimbursements
WellPoint's Telemedicine Service Saves Patients $71 per Visit 
Top 8 Areas Where Mobile Technology is Used to Improve Patient Care

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