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Telehealth Use in Rural Healthcare

Telehealth has great potential to increase access to and quality of healthcare in rural communities. Technology can now allow rural patients to see specialists without leaving their communities, permits local providers to take advantage of distant expertise, and improves timeliness of care.

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine is the remote delivery of healthcare services and information using telecommunications technology.

What is telehealth?

According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, telehealth is often used to refer to a broader scope of remote healthcare services than the term telemedicine. Telehealth includes remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services. Although telehealth is broader in scope, the American Telemedicine Association and many other organizations use the terms “telemedicine” and “telehealth” interchangeably.

While one of the most common images of telehealth is of a patient speaking by videoconference with a remote physician, telehealth can take many forms. The Health Resources Services Administration defines telehealth as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.

Telehealth technologies can include:

  • Videoconferencing,
  • Store-and-forward data, images or videos,
  • Remote patient monitoring, and
  • mHealth (mobile health) applications

This guide helps healthcare providers find information on telehealth services and highlights funding opportunities and initiatives to implement telehealth services. It also provides examples of telehealth projects as models for rural hospitals and clinics to develop and implement programs. The guide discusses challenges for providing telehealth services in rural areas including workforce issues, quality of care issues, reimbursement, licensure, and access to broadband services.

Frequently Asked Questions

Last Reviewed: 8/5/2014

Telemedicine Robot image
“Hawkeye” the robot, as featured in The Rural Monitor
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Funding for this project was supported by Grant Number U56RH05539 from the Office of Rural Health Policy, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The contents of this website are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the funder.