Connected care is a central concept to healthcare delivery in the United States. It’s also frequently associated with — and sometimes confused with — telehealth and telemedicine. But it’s not quite the same, and the distinction matters. With that in mind, let’s answer the question of just what is connected care, and how it fits into the bigger picture of telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM).
What is connected care?
What is connected care? The simplest definition of connected care is care that’s delivered with the use of technology, usually newer, digital technology. It’s a way to achieve coordinated care with the help of technology that better monitors patient information, and enables real-time, electronic communication between patients and their care providers, as well as communication between clinicians themselves.
Drilling down a little further, many organizations and academic sources further define connected care as:
- Being of high quality — the idea is to leverage expert care to drive ongoing improvements
- Designed to enable patient-centered care — i.e., customized to suit each individual patient
- Designed to emphasize preventive care — i.e., improving outcomes by enabling patient engagement
“The more engaged a patient is, the less likely they are to need urgent care,” explains Aetna International. “In other words, offering people personal health guidance can keep them out of hospital. By delivering health care in a way that’s relevant to a modern, technologically savvy population, people can make informed decisions about their health and well-being.”
And that aspect of connected care is also directly aligned with value-based care, the reimbursement philosophy pursued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and thus, the de facto standard in U.S. healthcare. Designed to replace the traditional fee-for-service reimbursement model, value-based care emphasizes quality over quantity by rewarding care providers for improving outcomes.
As such, the gradual shift to value-based care — the idea is to eventually phase out fee-for-service entirely — has been a key driver in the growth of connected care. Yet it’s important to note that “Connected Care” is also the official name of a CMS “public education campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of chronic care management (CCM),” a model designed to better treat chronic conditions.
And this is where defining connected care begins to get tricky. In addition to the basic definition offered above — widely accepted by industry professionals as well as academics and researchers — many companies and public organizations also use the term to brand their own technology-driven offerings. For instance, Connected Care is the name of Intel’s member portal, and a popular mHealth app.
In case you missed it: What’s the difference between mHealth and telehealth?
In addition, Connected Care is the official name of an initiative by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand broadband technology for its members with limited access to care. As such, the “Office of Connected Care brings VA digital technology to Veterans and health care professionals, extending access to care beyond the traditional office visit,” as the VA website explains.
There’s also the Connected Care Pilot Program, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) grant allocating $100 million to “support connected care services” (especially for veterans and low-income patients), and Taking Action for Connected Care, a group funded by companies like Walmart, Amazon, Intel and CVS to advocate for a freer “legal and regulatory environment” for telehealth-driven care.
What’s the difference between connected care and telehealth?
What do we mean by telehealth-driven care? And what’s the difference between connected care and telehealth? Telehealth is a technology used to deliver connected care. Like mHealth, telehealth is a component of connected care. They’re pieces of a larger puzzle — and connected care is that assembled puzzle. It represents all of the systems, processes, personnel and technology used to meet a specific patient care goal.
While the distinction is pretty clear — telehealth is a component of connected care — they do often get confused with one another. It’s not unusual to see the terms used interchangeably, although it is getting rarer as both connected care and telehealth come into much wider use — an increase that was accelerated by Covid-19, though it had been on the uptick well before the pandemic struck.
Complicating things further, there are other terms that often get associated with connected care and telehealth. The most common may be telemedicine, a synonym for telehealth that can be used interchangeably with it (at CareSimple.com, we use telehealth because that’s the term preferred by Medicare).
There’s also digital health (i.e., digital care or digital healthcare) and connected health. Once commonly used to describe what is connected care — a tech-powered patient care model — digital health is a little less specific. It’s often a catchall term that describes any technology-enabled care model. As such, it can also be used to define telehealth, telemedicine and remote patient monitoring (RPM).
Similarly, remote care and virtual care are also used to describe specific type of services delivered by connected care. In general, these terms refer to consultations and care management that occurs when the patient is in a different location than the doctor, nurse care manager, or other clinician or caregiver — video visits, phone calls, email-based chats and even texting are all sometimes allowed.
And then there are the specific care management models that make use of telehealth technology to fulfill specific patient care goals outlined by CMS. These include established models for treating chronic disease like CCM and RPM, as well as newer models of care like remote therapeutic monitoring (RTM) and hospital-at-home (HaH) services.
For example, RPM is used to remotely monitor important patient information like blood pressure, glucose levels, weight and more. So, organizations looking to implement a connected care service to meet value-based care requirements among populations with chronic disease frequently make use of a remote monitoring platform to better manage those conditions, along with a platform for virtual visits.
If this seems like a complicated network of terminology and definitions to you, don’t worry — you’re not imagining things. Connected care and telehealth “terminologies and definitions used in the U.S. by clinicians, market suppliers, policy makers, and patients vary widely,” as the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) has pointed out.
“In some cases, connected care terms have specific regulatory or statutory definitions, while in other cases there are no official definitions — only a loose consensus of use,” according to the connected care definition offered by HIMSS, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for the use of digital technology to improve healthcare delivery.
“When using telehealth terms, we must take care to select appropriate terms for a specific audience, context, region and end-goal. The U.S. federal government’s use of an array of terms — many of which differ across agencies, contributes significantly to definitional confusion.”
Which is all to say that it’s important to define your organization’s exact needs before moving forward with any connected care technology. For those still struggling with the terminology, or with how connected care, telehealth or RPM can be leveraged to meet your specific needs, a good place to start is partnering with a proven service provider with demonstrated experience implementing successful programs.
Begin your connected care journey with CareSimple
Full disclosure: At CareSimple, we specialize in helping organizations build out their connected care offerings with a suite of specialized telehealth services that includes one of the nation’s leading RPM platforms. If you’re looking to leverage the benefits of telehealth or connected care, we’re standing by to assist. Contact us today to discover how we can help you meet your unique patient care needs.