Federal Agencies Use Different Definitions for Telehealth, Study Finds

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Federal government agencies use seven different definitions of telehealth, according to a study published in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health, Becker's Hospital Review reports (Ellison, Becker's Hospital Review, 4/2).

Study Details

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 100 individuals from 26 agencies who were participating in the Federal Telemedicine Working Group.

According to FierceHealthIT, the individuals were asked about their agency's definition of telehealth and terms associated with the word.

Study Findings

The study found that federal agencies had differing definitions of telehealth. For example, the study showed that within HHS:

  • The Agency for Health Research and Quality defines telehealth based on evolving technology and adopted definitions for telehealth that fit the technology being used;
  • CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT both define telehealth as the use of telecommunications and IT to provide access to diagnosis, health assessment, information and patient care (Gold, FierceHealthIT, 4/2);
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration defines telehealth as "the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance" health care and lists some of the specific technology used to transmit data (Doarn et al., Telemedicine and e-Health, May 2014); and
  • The Indian Health Service uses specific health technologies in its definition, such as videoconferencing and remote patient monitoring (FierceHealthIT, 4/2).

The report found that definitions also varied for health-related agencies outside of HHS. For example:

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology uses the American Telemedicine Association's definition;
  • The Department of Agriculture uses definitions of specific technology such as electronic health data and telecommunications; and
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs defines telemedicine as something that should be used "with the intent of providing the right care in the right place at the right time."

Researchers' Comments

The study's authors wrote, "[A]lthough many definitions are similar, there are nuanced differences that reflect each organization's legislative intent and the population they serve" (Becker's Hospital Review, 4/2).

They concluded, "The evidence base suggests that a common nomenclature for defining telemedicine may benefit efforts to advance the use of this technology to address the changing nature of health care and new demands for services as a result of health reform" (FierceHealthIT, 4/2).


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