03 July 2013

Telehealth, Telemedicine, mHealth - ????

With the explosion of technology today, it is difficult to see what is in store tomorrow much less five or ten years from now. Yet many people are attempting to predict and declare what will happen in the next five to ten years. This is because of their obsession with having order in their lives and direction in what they do. I can understand and appreciate this, but as I grow older, I just want to wake up tomorrow and then I will worry about what I do and what will happen. Oh, yes, I have plans, live by a budget, but all these dreams are mote if I don't wake up tomorrow.

The definitions of the terms used today are complex and often confusing. I am not sure that I have them right, but I have asked three doctors and received three different answers. And in their own professional groups, each has their points and they all differed. Digital health technology seems to be accepted more than any other term and in some instances, this may be true, but then we need to think about the other terms that are gaining acceptance. And when talking about digital health and digital healthcare, there is not a national organization, that I am aware of existing.

Telemedicine, telehealth, mhealth, (Mhealth, m-health, mobile health all apply to the use of mobile health devices), are just a few of the terms being used widely. In a search of the internet, only one of these terms relates to a national organization and that is the American Telemedicine Association. At present, and I say this cautiously, this is the only group to have a national association and as such I need to consider this the overarching organization for all other terms.

Be careful and don't confuse this with telecommunications as this is represented by at least two national groups – the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) and the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC). The NTCA and the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies (OPASTCO) merged and beginning on March 1, 2013, the new organization will be called NTCA, The Rural Broadband Association.

Back to the use of terms in the health arena.
The term “eHealth” is often used, particularly in the U.K. and Europe, as an umbrella term that includes telehealth, electronic medical records, and other components of health information technology. As this is a term more common to the European Union, I will leave it alone.

Another term similar to telemedicine is the term "telehealth," which is frequently used to denote a broader definition of remote healthcare not always involving active clinical treatments. Telehealth and eHealth are at times incorrectly interchanged with telemedicine. Telemedicine often refers only to the provision of clinical services while the term telehealth can refer to clinical and non-clinical services involving medical education, administration, and research.

Telehealth is not popular in some areas, but one company still pushes this. And remember, it does not take a national organization to drive definitions, but it helps.  Reading about the different terms in wikipedia can be of some help, but there is still confusion. I find it interesting just trying to wrap my head around all the terms. I may misuse them, but to me telemedicine will be for me the overarching term and may include some of the other terms as part of telemedicine.

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