Telecare Aware’s Terminology Campaign

What’s the problem?

Multiple meanings of the words ‘telecare’, ‘telehealth’, ‘telemedicine’, etc. abound. Conversely, similar concepts have many names. As a consequence:

  • Professionals use their preferred terminology and confuse journalists
  • Journalists’ misconceptions spread public confusion
  • Speed of adoption of the technology is retarded
  • People suffer without appropriate monitoring systems
  • Suppliers have to work harder to thrive
  • The development of new technologies falters

What’s the solution and where will it come from?

I used to believe that the matter would evolve towards a solution. However, I now see it evolving towards greater confusion. We have reached a situation where a standard, internationally recognised taxonomy and set of definitions needs to be agreed and adopted.

However, it is no one’s responsibility to take on this task. The only organisation that has a broad base of worldwide technology suppliers and which has a remit to develop any international standards (albeit only in the health technology arena at the moment) is the Continua Alliance. It is in the Alliance’s members’ long term interest to tackle this problem.

What role will Telecare Aware play?

During 2008 Telecare Aware will post links to news items that illustrate the problems. I am happy to open up these pages to everyone who is interested in this issue and invite contributions by way of articles and comments. Although I have some views about how words should be applied in this field (see the What is Telecare page, for example) I am more concerned that an international consensus is formed than I am about promoting my particular usage.

Where shall we start?

Start with this excellent blog posting by Guy Dewsbury: The Language of Telecare. It begins: “I am not sure about you, but I think it is time to resurrect the debate about terminology. I have recently been to a number of conferences and at these events people use the words Telecare, Telehealth, Telemedicine and Assistive Technology…

Then move on to this article Telecare, telehealth and assistive technologies – do we know what we’re talking about? Doughty, K et al, published in the Journal of Assistive Technologies (Volume 1 Issue 2, December 2007) and made available to Telecare Aware readers by kind permission of Pavilion Journals (Brighton) Ltd.

Steve Hards

Categories: Terminology.


  1. Mike Orton



    There is indeed a lot of confusion regarding the terminology for Telecare, Telehealth and Telemedicine, which is to be expected in an embryonic industry still trying to become mainstreamed. I agree some definitions need to established and accepted internationally. However, as a point, there is still some confusion over the term assistive technology and what it encompasses, it would seem that terminology takes a great deal of time to become accepted and used in the correct context.

    Mike Orton

  2. Keren Down

    Telecare terminology and boatmen

    The benefit of using the term ‘assistive technology’ as an umbrella term to encompass ‘any product or service designed to enable independence for disabled and older people’ is that it highlights the fact that there are common principles and approaches. (King’s Fund consultation 2001 – see for more information on this definition.) Those common principles relate to the requirement to closely match person to technology, more so than in other areas of technology.

    The confusion seems to arise due to the fact that assistive technology is not a term fitted for day-to-day use and that it has been used in very specific (service defined) contexts. It is a term well fitted for strategic planning. An analogy is the term ‘transport’. On the whole people don’t say ‘I’m going to go and take a transport up to the Elephant and Castle’.

    But you do have transport planners, transportation strategies, etc. On an individual basis people use the term to talk about their options, I might say ‘Living 10 minutes from the Elephant and Castle I have a lot of transport options available to me’. However, if boatmen on the Thames starting calling their boats ‘transports’ it would seem a bit odd.

    That’s a bit similar from my perspective to people in the education sector calling devices to enable access to computers ‘assistive technology’ or Government ministers referring to the potential of ‘assistive technology’ when they mean telecare and telehealth devices and systems. But I’m optimistic that the worldwide use of the term assistive technology and common sense will prevail (um .. well we can live in hope. )

    Cheers. Keren

  3. Angela Single

    Terminology in the real world

    I think it is far less confusing if the industry reflects what goes on in the real world! i.e we already have healthcare and care.

    When we use those terms we all know what type of care we are talking about so why do we want to be different.

    It also isn’t about technology it is about service delivery – the AT or technology are tools to delivering care or health in very different ways – unless we get that we really have not understood what is currently happening out there in the real world.

    My vote is for Telecare and Telehealth!!! Simple – using technology to deliver either care or healthcare – what is confusing about that and why do we need to spend hrs debating it! See our web-site for more info on Telecare and Telehealth good practice.

    Good luck – Angela

  4. Donna Cusano, Editor North America

    Confusion increasing, not decreasing, internationally

    I’d like to link here the two Telecare Aware articles that indicate the heavy hand of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in further muddying the taxonomy waters, using ‘e-care’ as their umbrella term.

    ‘E-care’ not ‘telehealth’…the FCC says so!

    Will US telemedicine be DOA?

    Trevor Cradduck also reminded us a while back that in Canada, telemedicine is a trademarked word, and Canadians use telehealth to ‘include all forms of distance communication in the delivery of health care (including education for professionals and public).’