Advances in mobile and wireless technologies have made way for an explosion in consumer health IT: Mobile apps, websites and wearables are helping people get educated, track their own health, and in some cases connect to caregivers more efficiently.
With the need for healthcare transformation at a tipping point, these technological advances supporting a more affordable future for telehealth couldn’t come at a better time. Here’s what’s behind the growth in telehealth:
- Healthcare Reform and Cost Containment
Along with other health IT applications, telehealth will be an important component in lowering the cost of care while improving quality and patient engagement. Changes in reimbursement practices to performance-based and value-based pay are beginning to spread across the country, instigated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Healthcare providers will increasingly be forced to show higher quality outcomes for the consumer dollar, which means collecting more data on patients to inform decisions and reduce waste. A recent Accenture report projected that $10 billion a year in primary care costs could be saved through telemedicine.
The cost of readmissions is a particularly troublesome trend: In 2011, hospitals spent $41.3 billion to treat patients readmitted within 30 days of discharge. Telehealth can help by providing a means for frequent and low-cost follow-up care to patients post-admission.
A few supporting statistics on economic benefits from telehealth from a Commonwealth Fund study include:
- Partners HealthCare’s Connected Cardiac Care Program has seen a 51 percent reduction in heart failure-related readmission rates for enrolled patients since its remote monitoring and telemedicine pilot launched in 2006. The total savings from 1,265 patients enrolled in the program totaled more than $10.3 million.
- The VA saw a 56 percent reduction in hospital services for depression and a 40 percent drop in hospitalizations for other mental health issues, through telehealth.
- Centura Health significantly reduced readmissions for congestive heart failure and COPD in its two participating facilities, and even brought its diabetes readmission rates from 12 percent down to zero.
Medicare has added seven new codes for telehealth services across psychotherapy, wellness visits and more. With reimbursement critical to widespread adoption, Medicare’s growing support for telehealth is a positive development.
- Chronic Disease Management
Chronic disease is responsible for 7 of 10 deaths each year and accounts for 86 percent of healthcare spending in the U.S. Patients with conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, depression, arthritis, diabetes and COPD need continual care and monitoring to manage the diseases, control symptoms and prevent complications requiring urgent or acute care. Telehealth solutions may help caregivers track patients’ overall health status with regular updates, receive alerts from wearables or other devices when patients’ vitals are abnormal, and can ensure medication adherence—all without requiring an in-office visit. Video-based nurse visits can reduce costs for home health providers, provide the convenience of scheduling visits during “off” hours, enable nurses to see more patients, and even reduce anxiety in patients who may not wish to receive an in-person home visit.
- Wellness and Population Health Management
Education is fundamental for disease prevention and management. Using video and audio technology to deliver remote instruction by caregivers has been proven to help patients recovering from surgery stay out of the hospital. Remote caregiver sessions can also deliver timely, guided help with self-care for less acute conditions, such as wound treatment. Individuals on a weight-loss program may appreciate simple ways to share their daily diet and exercise statistics with a counselor who can provide encouragement and advice if they are getting off track. Mobile apps can give daily tips to at-risk patients on how to stay healthy, along with reminders for preventive health visits.
Read more about additional trends behind telehealth adoption in our next installment, including non-acute care diagnosis and ER prevention, emergency care assistance, and replacement for regular office visits.