Telehealth is the transmission of health-related services or information over the telecommunications infrastructure. As such, telehealth covers both telemedicine, which includes remote patient monitoring, and nonclinical elements of the healthcare system, such as education.
Telehealth examinations can be performed by physicians, nurses or other healthcare professionals over a videoconference connection to answer a patient's specific question about their condition. A telehealth visit can also be a remote substitute for a regular physician exam or as a follow-up visit to a previous care episode. Convenience, for both sides of the care equation, is one of the major benefits of telehealth. Patients can communicate with physicians from their homes, or the patient can travel to a nearby public telehealth kiosk where a physician can conduct a thorough inspection of the patient's wellbeing.
Differences in state telemedicine licensure laws complicate the practice of telehealth. Most U.S. states do not allow physical exams to be done remotely. Also, many states require physicians to have full medical licenses to be able to practice telemedicine within that state, while other states mandate physicians have special telemedicine licenses. The American Medical Association is one of the major healthcare groups that called for standards to be applied to telehealth to give patients more access to remote care services.
Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for telehealth services, such as remote checkups, is another issue that has slowly been catching up to the level of in-person healthcare. The majority of states provide some amount of financial reimbursement to providers who perform telehealth visits, though not all of them offer reimbursements equal to those given for conventional medical appointments.
The American Telemedicine Association, established in 1993, promotes the delivery of care through remote means and hosts a yearly conference on the latest news and developments in telehealth. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also supports the development of telehealth. A bill introduced in Congress in 2015 would allow qualified VA health professionals to treat U.S. veterans without requiring the patient and physician to be in the same state.