Defining Telehealth for Research, Implementation, and Equity

J Med Internet Res. 2022 Apr 13;24(4):e35037. doi: 10.2196/35037.


When the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a disruption in health care delivery, the role of telehealth shifted from an option to a near necessity to maintain access when in-person care was deemed too risky. Each state and many organizations developed temporary telehealth policies for the COVID-19 emergency, each policy with its own definitions, coverage, government cases, and regulations. As pandemic-era policies are now being replaced with more permanent guidelines, we are presented with an opportunity to reevaluate how telehealth is integrated into routine health care delivery. We believe that the timing and nature of the sequential steps for redefining telehealth are critical and that it is important to develop a clear and agreed-on definition of telehealth and its components at this time. We further suggest a necessary preliminary step is to support clear communication and interoperability throughout the development of this definition. Precise and standardized definitions could create an unambiguous environment for clinical care for both patients and providers while enabling researchers to have more precise control over their investigations of telehealth. A consensus when defining telehealth and its derivatives at this critical stage could create a consistent expectation of care for all patients and those who set the standards of care, as it has for other clinical scenarios with clear guidelines.

Keywords: delivery of health care; digital health; health equity; public health; standards; telehealth; telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Telemedicine*