What is Telemedicine? A Complete Guide

Clearstep Team

The Covid-19 pandemic forced healthcare systems to find alternatives to in-person doctor office visits. As a result, they looked at telemedicine to bridge the gap between doctors and their patients.

You might wonder what telemedicine is and how long it’s been around.

We will look at the history of telemedicine, its applications for medical treatment, and the pros and cons of this evolving, game-changing technology.  

Related: Virtual Care was a Necessity During the Pandemic. What Happens Now?

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is the practice of evaluating, diagnosing, and treating patients remotely through telecommunications technology. 

The medical community in the United States initially developed it to address common care shortages in rural areas. 

With the advent of high-speed internet, broadband cell phone service, and smartphones, it is now easier to remotely connect patients and doctors in high-quality video calls without using expensive video conferencing equipment.

It also allows for the sharing and transmission of larger-sized files like MRIs between medical practitioners, allowing them to send and receive documents as quickly as sending an e-mail.

How Does Telemedicine Work?

Telemedicine uses high-speed telecommunications technology and software to provide clinical services to patients without having to do an in-person visit. 

There are three main types of telemedicine:

Interactive Medicine

Interactive medicine is sometimes called “real-time” telemedicine. It is a live video call between patients and doctors or two healthcare professionals.

It gives easy access for patients anywhere to connect with a doctor and get treatment immediately.

When a physical examination isn’t needed, it’s much more convenient for the patient and the doctor to talk over a video call.  

It can also save patients time and money by not having to take time off from work to see the doctor.

Remote Patient Monitoring

Patients with health problems or long-term illnesses often need to regularly monitor vital signs and other health data like blood sugar or blood pressure. Remote monitoring helps doctors ensure they are managing their condition correctly. 

The advent of wearables and mobile testing devices makes it easier for patients to help doctors track their health remotely.

Allowing patients to monitor and test themselves at home and share their results easily and remotely with their doctor saves time from traveling to and from the doctor for tests.

Store and Forward

Often called asynchronous telemedicine, store and forward solutions enable healthcare systems to gather and then forward patient medical data (records, videos, images, lab results) to another provider in a different location privately and securely.

Store and forward are asynchronous because the different parties don’t all need to communicate simultaneously. It works well with interprofessional medical services where doctors send information to a specialist in a different location for diagnosis. 

One of the main benefits of store and forward telemedicine is it helps facilitate faster diagnosis for patients in remote or underserved communities.

Related: Pushing the Boundaries of Virtual Care

Virtual Checkup

The Pros and Cons of Telemedicine

Like any emerging technology, there are both pros and cons to using telemedicine today. 

The Pros


The convenience of telemedicine, for both patients and independent medical groups, is one of the driving factors behind the industry’s growth in recent years.

Having an appointment from the privacy of one’s home saves time for trips to and from the doctor’s office, especially for those with mobility issues. 

For people in remote areas, telemedicine can allow them to consult with a physician without traveling for hours to see one.

Greater Access to Specialists

Thanks to telemedicine practices like store and forward, it’s easier for patients and doctors to access specialists

Telemedicine platforms make it easy to bring together patients, primary care physicians, and specialists anywhere in the world without traveling. As a result, telemedicine allows for more timely care of critical conditions.

Saves Costs

Telemedicine saves patients money on time missed from work, travel costs, and medical fees associated with trips to a doctor’s office.

By cutting unnecessary doctor or ER visits, telemedicine also saves healthcare systems money on staffing personnel and reserving facilities. 

Higher Quality Patient Care

Telemedicine makes it easy for doctors to schedule follow-up appointments and monitor their patients remotely.

Patients like the ease and convenience of receiving consultations and treatments from the comfort of their homes and are more likely to attend their appointment.

Better Patient Engagement

Because of its convenience, telemedicine helps patients connect with their doctors more frequently, helping them forge stronger relationships.

Without the hassle of going to and from an appointment, they are more likely not to skip check-ups. 

Do you want to know how Clearstep’s Smart Care Routing helps increase patient satisfaction and retention? Click here to learn more about Clearstep’s patient-centric approach!

The Cons

May Reduce Care Continuity

On-demand care for patients could allow people to see different doctors each time they seek treatment. 

However, not continually seeing the same doctor can result in a doctor overlooking a patient’s complete medical history, resulting in reduced care continuity. 

Needs Equipment and Tech Training

The more advanced the functionality of the telemedicine platform, the higher the cost and the more training required for staff to use it correctly.  

Changes in Payment Policies Can Be Tricky

Because of the rapid adoption of telemedicine, it has taken some time for both state laws and insurance systems to be consistent with reimbursement policies. As a result, when you can and can’t charge items like convenience fees vary from state to state and provider to provider. 

Reduces In-Person Interactions with Doctor

Many patients feel that telemedicine is too impersonal. They think their care might be lacking if they don’t see the doctor in person and get an actual physical exam

This in-person bias is especially strong with older patients who are used to visiting their doctor and aren’t as comfortable using technology. 

There is also a concern that doctors may continue to pivot away from in-person appointments, making in-person visits harder to schedule.    

Related: The Role of APPs in Telemedicine and Digital Health

A doctor writing information down on a clipboard. 

Which Services May be Provided by Telemedicine?

Health care systems can use telemedicine to provide a wide range of health services. For example, digital health vendors can use telemedicine to treat common conditions like:

  • Arthritis Pain
  • Respiratory Issues (Asthma/Bronchitis)
  • Strains and Sprains
  • Sore Throats
  • Rashes
  • Sports Injuries
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • Sports Injuries
  • Cold and Flu
  • Diarrhea
  • Sinusitis

Last Word

Telemedicine has the potential to open up access to quality healthcare to anyone that has a broadband connection and a smartphone. It can connect patients with doctors and doctors with other doctors worldwide with the click of a button.

Many digital health vendors and healthcare systems today use telemedicine as a virtual triage to help them remotely diagnose patients and then route them to the proper level of care.

Patients and healthcare systems are starting to understand that telemedicine can save precious time, money, and resources, from unnecessary doctor or ER trips. And they can receive the highest quality of healthcare from the convenience of their homes.

Are you ready to learn more about Clearstep's Virtual Triage Platform? Click here to schedule a demo!

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