How Telehealth Is Improving Care and Reducing Costs

When you think of telehealth, you probably think of communicating with a doctor remotely–over the phone or via a mobile device, as opposed to being seen in an office setting.  And while this is a likely scenario, telehealth is actually so much more than just a means of communication between healthcare professionals and patients. According to the Center for Connected Health Policy, telehealth is a collection of means or methods for enhancing health care, public health, and health education delivery and support using telecommunications technologies. Diagnosis, management, education, counseling, home health, chronic disease monitoring/management, and consumer/professional education are many of the other aspects of telehealth which work together to make healthcare more accessible and to lower healthcare costs.

There are several widely used methods of utilizing telehealth.

Live video provides a 2-way interaction between a patient and a provider where a patient can be “seen” and evaluated without an actual trip to the doctor’s office.

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) is the transmission of data between electronic technologies, and is often used after a hospital discharge to monitor a patient’s recovery.

Store-and-forward is a technology primarily used between providers and specialists. Examples include forwarding X-rays to a specialist for review as opposed to having a specialist on site, or a physician taking photos of a patients’ skin condition and forwarding to a dermatologist for review.

Mobile Health (mHealth) accounts for the dissemination of healthcare data between a provider and a patient via mobile or wireless technology and is commonly used as a part of employee wellness programs.

Telehealth allows for the improvement in quality of care, and the reduction of healthcare costs. Here are some of the benefits employers should be aware of:

Reducing Hospital Readmissions

Hospital readmissions account for some of the largest healthcare costs. It costs, on average, approximately $14,200 to readmit a patient to the hospital when using a private insurer. (Source: Agency for Quality Health). Depending on the diagnosis, readmission rates can run as high as 20%.

Telehealth allows for Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) after a hospital discharge to ensure patients are recovering as they should be. From a medication reminder being sent to a patient’s cell phone, to a blood pressure monitor that delivers results back to the physician, telehealth allows a provider to administer appropriate follow-up care depending upon how a patient progresses in their recovery, thus lowering the possibility of a hospital readmission.

Reducing Unnecessary Trips to the Emergency Department (ED)

According to a study in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, telehealth intervention—a pre-hospital emergency services consultation—was able to reduce unnecessary trips to the ED by 6.7%. “For patients with non-urgent conditions, the EMS physician scheduled alternative transportation to an affiliated primary care clinic, rather than providing all patients with ambulance transportation to an ED.” The average cost of an emergency department visit is roughly $700, with urgent care visits averaging $150. The average cost of a telehealth visit is $40. (source)

Increased Access to Specialists

Imagine traveling between 2-3 hours one way to see a specialist every month, or being able to video chat with that same provider for 1 hour out of every month. Telehealth allows for greater access to specialists. It provides more convenience for the patient, and it gives specialists, who are often in high demand, the opportunity to see more patients.

Adding Value to Employee Benefits

Telehealth also plays a big role in employee benefits packages and wellness programs. From the integration of wearable technology, such as fitness tracking apps, to the use of weight loss trackers, employees are more vested in their care and committed to achieving positive results. Apps may also provide prerecorded educational videos sent along to the patient, which may provide important health information to employees, such as reminders to get a yearly flu shot, tips to lower blood pressure or even healthy recipes to try with their families. mHealth, as it’s called, is becoming increasingly popular, and many employees are beginning to view telehealth as a value-add to their health insurance plan.

Catholic Benefits Trust