There are many forms of telehealth – an important aspect of health IT. These include live-interactive videoconferencing, remote monitoring, store-and-forward imaging, and provider education. Many different types of care settings can benefit from telehealth technology, including rural providers. Telehealth can help rural providers deliver better health care by connecting rural providers and their patients to services at distant sites and promoting patient-centered health care.

Connecting Providers and Patients

Telehealth connects rural providers and their patients to services at a distant site. This capability enables patients to receive care in their communities and avoid long travel times. Given the shortage of some medical specialties in rural America,1,2 telehealth will play an important role in ensuring patients in rural communities can access the care they need. For example, imagine a rural primary care provider (PCP) needs to refer a patient to a Stroke Specialist in an area where no such specialists practice. With telehealth, the PCP may be able to leverage telecommunications technologies to connect the patient with a specialist at a remote site instead of asking the patient to travel to another community to obtain care.

Promoting Patient-Centered Health Care

Telecommunication technologies include:

  • Video conferencing
  • The internet
  • Store-and-forward imaging
  • Streaming media
  • Terrestrial and wireless communications

Telehealth differs from telemedicine because it encompasses a broader scope of remote health care services. Telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services. Telehealth, in addition to clinical services, includes remote non-clinical services, such as:

  • Clinician training
  • Administrative meetings
  • Continuing medical education

Although people often use telemedicine and telehealth interchangeably, telemedicine refers specifically to interactive health communications with clinicians on both “ends” of the exchange. For example, telemedicine allows you to:

  • Video conference Grand Rounds
  • Transmit X-rays between radiologists
  • Help a remote practitioner present a patient to a specialist for consultation

For More Information

The Health IT Playbook has information about telehealth. For more information on the types of care settings that can benefit from telehealth technology, see the Health Resource and Services Administration's Rural Health IT Toolbox.


  1. Fordyce MA, Chen FM, Doescher MP, Hart LG. WWAMI Rural Health Research Center, University of Washington. "2005 physician supply and distribution in rural areas of the United States." [PDF - 1 MB]Web Site Disclaimers
  2. National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services. "The 2009 Report to the Secretary: Rural Health and Human Services Issues." [PDF - 353 KB]
  3. The National Learning Consortium Team developed this content using Missouri Telehealth Network's "What is Telehealth?"Web Site Disclaimers.