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Rural Health Information Hub

Telehealth/Telemedicine Networks

Telehealth (sometimes called telemedicine) refers to a method of healthcare delivery that extends beyond face-to-face interaction. Telehealth includes a variety of technologies, applications, and interfaces (including telephone, email, two-way video, smart phones, wireless tools, and the like) to deliver virtual medical, health, and health education services.

Telehealth services are becoming more commonly used in environments where patients are homebound or there are other circumstances that make it difficult for patients to access care, such as long-term care situations and incarceration. At this time, doctors are only able to practice telehealth in states where they are licensed. Reimbursement is an ongoing concern for those practicing telehealth.

While being a member of a telehealth network is not a prerequisite to practicing telemedicine, there are practical reasons for joining a network, such as connecting care providers (both general clinicians and specialists) to a greater pool of patients who may not otherwise have access to care. Networks provide broadband infrastructure (often for a discounted rate) and necessary protection to assure healthcare delivery and medical records are shared in a secure and HIPAA-compliant platform.

Telehealth networks can be organized at the local level (Finger Lakes Telehealth Network) or statewide level (California Telehealth Network). They are often used to connect rural clinics and community health centers to specialty care (Ohio State University Telemedicine Network) and they can be used to provide education and training to care providers. In 2012, the American Telemedicine Association estimated the number of existing telemedicine networks in the United States at 200, with 3,500 service sites across the U.S.

For more information about telehealth, see RHIhub’s Telehealth and Health Information Technology in Rural Healthcare topic guide.

Resources to Learn More

The Virtual Doctor: How Data Networks are Extending the Reach of Medical Care in the Digital Age
A brief history of technology in medicine and case studies of five existing telehealth networks.
Organization(s): Forbes Insights
Date: 2015