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What is real-time telehealth?

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Real-time telemedicine (also called live or synchronous telemedicine) makes it easy to do a provider-patient visit anytime, anywhere. Real-time telemedicine includes any two-way communications (including video conferencing and phone consultations) that let providers and patients communicate in real-time. Assessments of medical history, basic visual examinations, psychiatric evaluations, and even ophthalmic tests can all be done via real-time telemedicine. This type of telemedicine requires the patient and healthcare provider to interact in real-time. Think of a phone call, chatroom, or online video conference. In all cases, the patient and clinician are both present and communicating back-and-forth, at the same time. 

While real-time telemedicine does require a patient and physician to coordinate schedules, it’s the most similar to an in-person visit. In many cases, the physician can use the patient’s history, the live video or other visual information provided, and the patient’s comments to assess the patient and provide treatment remotely. Some real-time telemedicine software may also incorporate mobile medical devices to capture a patient’s vital signs or other health information in place of a physical exam. 

Real-time telemedicine software is a good option for patients who need to see a provider but cannot get into the practitioner’s office, whether because of distance, cost of travel, time, physical effort, etc. Recent studies have found that in some cases remote visits using 2-way video can be as effective and more cost-efficient than in-person doctor visits. 

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) defines synchronous telemedicine as “live video-conferencing,” which is a “two-way audiovisual link between a patient and a care provider.” 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states, “Synchronous telemedicine requires the presence of both parties at the same time and a communication link between them that allows a real-time interaction to take place.” 

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) defines synchronous telemedicine as follows: “Interactive video connections that transmit information in both directions during the same period.” 

The University of Miami (UM) Miller School of Medicine states, “Real-time telehealth sessions are live and interactive, and frequently use video-conferencing technologies. Often, special telehealth-enabled instruments, such as a video otoscope or an electronic stethoscope, are operated by a nurse or technician at the consulting provider’s direction to remotely perform a physical examination.”