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A Physician's Perspective: Meaningful Use of Health Technology

May 3 2012   1:54PM GMT

Telemedicine or telehealth?



Posted by: DrJosephKim
American Telemedicine Association, ATA, ATA 2012, Telehealth, telemedicine

I just returned from the American Telemedicine Association 2012 annual conference in San Jose, CA. The conference was packed with people who were excited to share how they were using telecommunication technologies to deliver care. Some amazing demonstrations were also available within the ATA exhibit hall. And, people were using #ATA2012 to send tweets about the meeting.

As I listened to presentations, I noticed that some people used the term “telemedicine” while others opted for “telehealth“. And though a majority used these interchangeably, there is a difference between “medicine” and “health”, and I wonder if we’ll start hearing discussions around this over the next few years.

Let’s start by looking at the words “medicine” vs. “health.” Some may argue that the term telemedicine is too physician-centric and that telehealth is a broader, better term that encompasses other health care professionals like nurses, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, etc.  After all, physicians are the only ones who go to “medical” school. And, they’re the only ones prescribing “medicine.” The American “Medical” Association represents physicians. So, should we be using “health” to encompass a broader audience, or is it OK to stick with the term “medicine” as in telemedicine? I’m obviously biased, but I see this trend occurring in a number of areas.

To start, we can look at the common acronyms EHR and EMR. Docs still love using the term “EMR.” They have not adopted the phrase EHR, but this is the new “standard” term for the industry if you ask the U.S. government. We’re all creatures of habit, so EMR is still easier for people to say. But, over time, will EHR entirely replace EMR?

Here’s another example: schools that offer degree programs in informatics. Are they offering a degree in “medical” informatics, or “health” informatics? Is there really a difference?

Because of history and tradition, I anticipate that the ATA will always be the American Telemedicine Association. Likewise, AMIA will always be the American Medical Informatics Association (and I doubt we’ll see a new organization called AHIA competing against AMIA).

What’s going to happen in telemedicine? Will the phrase “telehealth” stick, or will it get swept away with everyone using telemedicine? Given that telemedicine is often used to treat patients or to deliver care for an active health condition, the term telemedicine seems more fitting. We also have terms like telesurgery, teleradiology, teledermatology, etc. So, maybe we’ll just get much more specific with our terminology in the future.

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