How can Telehealth Decrease Cost and Improve Health Outcomes

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With healthcare costs shooting up drastically over the past decade, telehealth is being seen as a way for healthcare organizations to boost patient engagement and survive in the highly competitive market.

A recent study predicts that the telemedicine market will hit $130.5 billion by 2025. Numerous healthcare organizations have reported significant savings with telehealth adoption.

The use of telehealth has also shown to allow for better long-term patient satisfaction and care management; it offers a new means to look up health information and communicate with practitioners across the globe (eg, via e-mail and interactive chats or videoconferences), thereby increasing convenience for the patient and reducing the amount of potential travel required.

In this piece, we will be covering real life examples and industry applications where telehealth adoption has decreased costs and improved outcomes.

Case Study 1: Telehealth for Streamlining Chronic Care Delivery

Today, a number of health systems are achieving rapid success by simply relying on carefully fabricated telehealth carts.

Take, for instance, the work of NewYork- Presbyterian Hospital. As part of its digital health strategy, the hospital built two ED triage programs using telehealth carts – one for more complex cases and another for low acuity patients. 

The Express Care Program is meant to speed up the treatment of low-acuity patients within the emergency room (ED).

Patients discovered to be lower acuity are directed to a private room furnished with an American Well C750 cart where they are connected to a remote physician who can conduct the required diagnosis and treat them further.

Through this program, the hospital has reduced its ED door-to-discharge time by close to 70%. 

The Medical Screening Exam program facilitates care for patients with more complex conditions by connecting ED patients with remote physician assistants or physicians via the carts, who then provide a medical screening exam and suggest all the suitable labs and tests.

Patients go through these tests before seeing on-site physicians, who will by that time have all the information needed to treat and optimize discharge. This workflow has been instrumental in accelerating care in the ED and has decreased the door-to-evaluation time by up to 57%.

Another outstanding example is UAB Medicine’s use of telehealth to improve care delivery for stroke. Alabama faces numerous hurdles when it comes to serving stroke patients, including a lack of vascular neurologists and patients living in very rural areas who need to be transferred which further delays care.

All these factors have led Alabama to become the state with the highest stroke mortality rate in the country.

By utilizing telehealth carts, UAB Medicine could rather easily roll out a successful statewide telestroke network, driving down the average wait time for a stroke consult to only about 6 minutes.

Over 430 consults have been completed since inception and nearly 12% of visits have resulted in a decrease in the administration of tPA.

Case Study 2: Telehealth for Increased Cost Savings through Virtual Carefor

While virtual care is still pioneering in some sectors, high-risk industries have always looked for ways to safeguard their employees’ overall wellbeing. Gas and oil industry leaders have  been leveraging telehealth – first through telephonic visits, then video calls, now evidence-based virtual care – to protect their workers’ health and safety for decades now.

Brazilian petroleum giant Petrobras is one company that successfully uses telemedicine to care for their offshore oil production workers while saving money.

Urgent care nurses worked on the oil platform, but they couldn’t always judge the severity of the problem – which meant any injury or illness could involve an expensive and risky helicopter evacuation to a mainland hospital. 

Using GlobalMed solutions, Petrobras launched a telemedicine program in collaboration with Israelita Albert Einstein, a teaching hospital in Sao Paulo.

In the mere span of a year, the hospital conducted close to 965 telemedicine visits between urgent care nurses on the production platforms and physicians at the hospital. This resulted in:

  • 2 of those visits leading to patient discharge – potentially avoiding helicopter evacuations that could cost roughly R$10,000-R$15,000 Brazilian reals, or $2500-$3750 USD.
  • Of the 6.8% of visits requiring evacuations, 71.4% were able to take less expensive non-urgent flights that minimized risk for both- the patient as well as the flight crew.

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Case Study 3: Telehealth Adoption for Facilitating Better Clinical Outcomes

In 2013, Partners HealthCare (Partners), an integrated health system in Boston, underwent a mission-driven, system-level transformation by aligning the organization with external forces shaping the future organization, financing, and delivery of health care.

Its strategic initiatives revolved around making patient care more affordable and accountable by furnishing integrated, evidence-based solutions. 

Partners’ strategy implementation group was aiming to ameliorate performance in a number of priority conditions. These initially included acute myocardial infarction, stroke, diabetes, coronary artery bypass graft surgery, and colorectal cancer.

The organization’s programs in home telehealth have been driven by its Center for Connected Health, which has successfully pilot-tested and deployed telemedicine and remote monitoring solutions in the past.

The center focuses on practical innovations that can change patient behaviors to realize better clinical outcomes

The center’s Connected Cardiac Care Program had enrolled more than 1,200 patients since its inception in 2006 uptil 2013 and experienced around 50% reduction in heart failure hospital readmission rates overall for enrolled patients.

The center estimates the program had resulted in total cost savings of more than $10 million in a mere span of 7 years. 

Human factors and social processes have been important in successfully introducing telehealth technology solutions into workflow and patient care.

Technology has also had a positive impact on patient activation and engagement in self-care, aiding in demonstrating to providers that this new program supports behavior changes that lead to quality outcomes and improved care.

How exactly is Telehealth Adoption Reducing Costs While Delivering Optimal Health Outcomes?

Telemedicine has been shown to decrease readmissions and other unfavourable events at a cost that is far less than the cost of the problems themselves.

We have already discussed how telehealth adoption has aided healthcare organizations in a number of ways earlier; now let’s explore a few ways healthcare providers can reduce costs by leveraging this technology

Remote analysis services such as teleradiology and telepathology enable pooling of resources in a hassle free manner, resulting in higher quality care and cost savings. 

Small-scale facilities that don’t see enough patients on a regular basis can share resources via telemedicine to offer around the clock coverage at a lower price. 

Radiology services in the US are highly exorbitant. However, telehealth can translate into cost savings for the healthcare system. Medical images such as MRIs, X-Rays, or CT scans can be securely transferred to offshore locations in order to avail a high-quality radiology analysis at a cheaper cost.

Remote monitoring technologies are enabling patients to be monitored on an ambulatory basis when they might have been monitored as an inpatient previously. This too leads to tremendous cost reductions for healthcare providers. 

Bluetooth-enabled medical devices allow frequent monitoring of vitals (heart rate, weight, blood pressure), which helps the doctors diagnose the patient’s condition better and also allows pro-active healthcare interventions by mitigating the risk of critical medical conditions like kidney failure or a heart attack. 

The introduction of virtual reality (VR) has further upped the stakes. At the last CES event in Las Vegas, a highly proclaimed Israeli firm debuted a new VR-telehealth medical platform, which will include apps that consumers can use at home to perform tasks such as accessing exercise repositories, personal healthcare data, and apps to exercise the brain. The platform can also be used for remote monitoring by family members and physicians alike.

Closing Words

Telehealth has exhibited extraordinary potential in areas like remote patient monitoring, chronic condition management, and delivering behavioral healthcare at reasonable costs.

While the advancements in research for this field are growing as we speak, it goes without saying that telehealth has led to better health outcomes by providing early interventions and improving access to care.

Today, telehealth includes everything right from digital CT scans and remote monitoring of intensive-care units to telephone consultations and live video feeds via Skype.

Although this technology can never truly replace all the nuances of in-person clinical care, the healthcare industry is certainly poised for a change in the near future.

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