Hospitals Reaping Financial Benefits of Telehealth

Karen Minich-Pourshadi, for HealthLeaders Media , July 19, 2012

"Patients and doctors don't have to drive as far and some monitoring can be done in the patient's home without even needing a nurse visit. And it provides patients with access to specialists they may not get otherwise," Wechsler. adds.

Telehealth providers at UPMC extend beyond physicians and to nurses and midlevels, such as the telehealth remote monitoring program. In this area, Wechsler explains, UPMC uses in-home telehealth equipment to monitor congestive heart failure patients' key measures, provide reminders, and communicate with patients.

The benefit of this approach is the nurses can monitor the patients proactively, identify potential health risks, and encourage the patient to comply with physician's orders. UPMC also has plans to expand this to other conditions such as COPD, diabetes, and hypertension.

"By using telemedicine and leveraging nurses we can also serve multiple practices at one time and support our medical home model," Wechsler adds.

Though the effort to reduce readmissions will eventually pay dividends, hospitals and health systems in states without telehealth mandates must decide how to bill for services.

"We use midlevel providers but consider the visits telemedicine consultations. Reimbursement for telemedicine consults is limited and thus not all visits are covered by insurers," Wechsler says. "However, the financial viability of telemedicine consults must be considered in the overall scheme of costs and savings. The time and costs associated with travel for patients, time efficiency for physicians, and lower costs associated with testing at community hospitals should be included in any cost-benefit analysis."

Though telehealth has been in practice for years, training for mid-levels, nurses, and physicians is still evolving as new tools are developed. Wechsler says staff telehealth training is an area in need of more attention nationwide. UPMC offers some training to medical staff to help them work with the digital peripherals, but much of the education centers on questions to ask to guide diagnoses.

Telehealth training is a unique area of interest for Central Ohio Primary Care, a 225-physician primary care corporation in Columbus. The group practice is piloting the use of HealthSpot, Inc.'s Care4 Station, a community-based remote care kiosk that enables a physician and another provider at the location with the patient  to work seamlessly as one with the patient, explain Robert Stone, MD, a member of the executive committee at Central Ohio Primary Care, and William Wulf, MD, corporate medical director for Central Ohio Primary Care.

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3 comments on "Hospitals Reaping Financial Benefits of Telehealth"

Nirav Desai (8/30/2012 at 2:22 PM)
Just a few points worth adding: 1. Telehealth consults can actualy be better than face-to-face consults in some instances. For example, if a patient suffers from breathing problems and lives in a home with poor air quality, it is easier for a doctor to see how the patient's breathing is affected in his own home then to have the patient come in to the relatively clean environment of the office. 2. For-profit hospitals and health systems see telehealth as a significant advantage in increasing their competitiveness for getting new patients. Despite reimbursement challenges, I believe competition will drive telehealth adoption even more than patient outcomes. Hospitals are already feeling the pressure to increase profits, cut costs, and provide better quality care - and telehealth affords them the ability to leverage their resources to accomplish this.

Ruth P (7/20/2012 at 12:03 PM)
I am excited to see Georgia as a major player in the telehealth industry!

Mike Zingalis (7/19/2012 at 11:11 AM)
I've seen this in action, and it a great tool that will only expand. When you look at the mobile phone alone, and the computing power that it are going to see the next wave here. For the web, many companies like Digital Group of Telehealth Companies already have the standardized software portal for hospitals and applications ready to go. Also, in the CMS space there are companies that I've consulted for, like Oxcyon, that put interfaces on top of the existing platform to allow design changes and data display changes through the site. Not only that, but through the content management system the hospital could have a multi-tier portal for the hospital, intranet, client services, and more. The information regarding prices for speicific tasks within the medical industry will only become more available, and luxury is lazyness and to think that people would want to come into a hospital repeatedly to be charged heavy sums vs. making a phone call at a fraction of the cost is an unrealistic perspective at best. That's my two cents. Anyone got change for a buck?




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