Telehealth vs. Virtual Health — What's the Difference? - DirectPayNet

Telehealth vs. Virtual Health — What’s the Difference?


Virtual health is gaining traction in the healthcare arena, with more products and services being marketed as part of virtual healthcare – but what exactly is virtual health? How is it different from telehealth?

If you’re a business owner, the difference is more than just how your customers refer to you, it’s what regulations you have to follow and seek the approval of. You don’t want to claim the wrong MCC, otherwise you’d face serious judiciary sentencing.

The Difference Between Telehealth and Virtual Health

Telehealth, telemedicine, and virtual health are often used interchangeably because they all use telecommunication technologies. However, there are differences between the three. This can make it difficult to navigate a world where communication technology is rapidly changing how we receive care.

Telehealth is a broad term that refers to any use of technology to provide or support healthcare services remotely. It encompasses many different elements, including store-and-forward video consultations and electronic medical records.

Telemedicine is a subset of telehealth that specifically involves the remote healthcare delivery of clinical services, like a virtual doctor visit. Store-and-forward technology, where information is exchanged via email or a secure messaging healthcare system, is an example of telemedicine, but not of telehealth as a whole.

Virtual health refers to the use of digital tools to support patient engagement outside of traditional care settings. This includes at-a-distance monitoring technologies and online patient access to digital healthcare records as well as non-medical services like coaching and wellness. The prior can be attributed to telehealth whereas the latter is often what we mean by virtual health.

Examples of Telehealth

Telehealth is a broad term that covers any type of remote visit or examination. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, health care professionals are struggling to balance the need for social distancing with providing care to patients. Telehealth is one way to provide health education, screenings, and treatment remotely.

Under the umbrella term that is telehealth, there are things like real-time video visits, telephone calls, remote patient monitoring, and e-visits. Some examples include:

  • A doctor using an app on their phone to check in on a patient who had recent surgery.
  • A nurse calling a patient who suffers from chronic conditions.
  • A therapist or clinician using Skype to see a long-distance patient in another city or country.
  • Prescription refills.
  • Online follow-ups to in-person visits.
  • Remote patient care monitoring of vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure) and other data through sensors or wearables.
  • Immediate treatment for common ailments online with no appointment necessary.
  • Accessing patient portals for medical documents.

Examples of Virtual Health

The idea of virtual health services is to offer various accessible and convenient health and wellness services from a mobile device, computer or by telephone. These innovative wellness services offer you the ability to get advice, data, and more without the need of a doctor.

  • Online and remote health coaching.
  • Nutrition counseling and weight loss programs.
  • At-home mental health meetings, like therapy over text or video chat.

Regulatory Requirements for Starting a Telehealth

The rapid rise of telehealth services in the United States and throughout the world has made it relatively easy for primary care provider to implement a telehealth program in their practice. However, before you start using telehealth services, there are some things you need to know about the regulatory requirements for starting a telehealth business.

Below is a list of the most common regulatory requirements for telemedicine and telehealth.


Every state has its own medical licensure requirements for doctors and other healthcare providers. If you want to use telemedicine, you must abide by these laws.

Privacy Laws

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires all healthcare providers to keep the personal health information of their patients private and secure. While HIPAA does not explicitly require healthcare providers to use a secure video conferencing platform, they must ensure that any platform they use is compliant with HIPAA standards.

Malpractice Insurance

Doctors need malpractice insurance whether they practice in person or using telemedicine. Make sure your malpractice policy covers both traditional and virtual visits with patients.

Payment Processing

If you want to charge patients for virtual visits, you will need an online payment processing system that can accept credit cards, e-checks, ACH, debit cards, and possibly even crypto. It depends on your customers, but at a minimum you need to accept credit cards.

Regulatory Requirements for Virtual Health

Here, virtual health is not treated the same as healthcare. While your field might (and should) be specific, you may not have to go through all of the hoops and hurdles of a telehealth business. But that doesn’t mean you can freely start, say, a health coaching business with no credentials. There are regulations for virtual health, too, that aim to keep providers in check.


Many online health businesses are subject to regulation by professional licensing boards or state regulatory agencies. For example, to practice as a registered dietitian or nutritionist you must be licensed, and in some cases, have an additional certification like a board-certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition.

If you want to offer health-related services and your state requires licensure, plan on spending time and money obtaining the appropriate credentials. Most states require completion of a degree program from an accredited institution. Many also require passing an exam and completing continuing education credits to maintain licensure.

The National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) has created national certification standards for the health and wellness coaching industry. The NBHWC is recognized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) as the primary certifying organization for health coaches in the U.S.

Training Program

In addition to licensure requirements, many states require that health coaches, weight loss consultants, and others who offer nutrition or wellness advice complete training programs before they can advertise their services or apply for licenses.

Payment Processing

Just like with telehealth, you need a payment process to take care of your transactions. The main point with virtual health is to use a high-risk payment processor. Virtual health businesses are considered high-risk, as is anything that sells advice, digital goods, and digital services. This isn’t just a quick tip to make your business life easier, it’s a necessity. If you ignore it, you will likely see your business shut down by the payment platform you chose. A quick online search will prove that to you.

Tips for Virtual Health Businesses

The first thing to understand is that health coaches are not health care professionals, and they shouldn’t be giving medical advice. If they are, they could get into trouble with the law. The best way to avoid this problem is to position yourself as a “wellness coach” or “fitness coach.” That puts the focus on wellness strategies and exercise — both of which are important, but neither of which requires medical care training.

You should also be clear about what you do and don’t do. It’s fine to offer nutritional tips and weight loss ideas, but you need to make it clear that you’re not diagnosing illnesses or suggesting treatments for them.

Of course, you shouldn’t be diagnosing illnesses even if you have medical training, but that’s another story for another day. If you have any medical training at all, then you might be required to follow additional rules depending on your state laws. You may need to partner with other professionals like doctors or nutritionists in order to offer certain services legally.

Telehealth and Virtual Health Are Different. Both Are Industries of Business.

That means you need to run yours like a business. Marketing, creating a business model, utilizing a CRM, implementing consumer safety and security measures, and business registration are just a few of what you need to do simply as a business.

One thing DirectPayNet makes easy for you is getting a high-risk merchant account. Whether it’s telehealth, telemedicine, or virtual health, your business needs a payment processing willing to back your business model and industry. Surprise: not all of them do!

We connect you with one that fully supports your business so you can focus on providing great service to your customers. Call our team of merchant account experts today to get started.

About the author

As President of DirectPayNet, I make it my mission to help merchants find the best payment solutions for their online business, especially if they are categorized as high-risk merchants. I help setup localized payments modes and have tons of other tricks to increase sales! Prior to starting DirectPayNet, I was a Director at MANSEF Inc. (now known as MindGeek), where I led a team dedicated to managing merchant accounts for hundreds of product lines as well as customer service and secondary revenue sources. I am an avid traveler, conference speaker and love to attend any event that allows me to learn about technology. I am fascinated by anything related to digital currency especially Bitcoin and the Blockchain.