As the federal government, via Medicare/Medicaid, and insurance companies strive to keep “heads out of beds” (e.g., patients managed into an outpatient setting [your doctor’s office] vs. inpatient/hospital settings), the need for more clinicians and better access to care grows unabated. In an effort to manage both increased demand (e.g., access) by patients and patients (appropriately) nudged into clinic settings, telehealth and its component pieces provide needed access to healthcare, possible cost savings, and, in many cases, improved continuity of care/care management via patient monitoring and adherence to treatment protocols.
Outpatient care, generally, is less costly to insurance companies and the federal government than hospital-based care. With increased demand in the healthcare system (e.g., more patients seeking care) and with hospitals now being penalized by Medicare for readmissions and extended patient lengths of stay, telehealth and its components furnish the opportunity to offer healthcare services remotely, provide convenience to patients and offer tools to manage doctor supply and patient demand.
While many use the terms telemedicine and telehealth interchangeably, broadly defined, and for the purposes of this article, telehealth consists of various remote care modalities including, but not limited to:
- telemedicine – remote “face-to-face” patient visits via video
- “store and forward” – where a patient visit occurs remotely, the interaction is recorded and the “visit” recording is forwarded to a clinician
- remote patient monitoring (RPM) – in which treatment protocols are deployed and patient adherence is tracked electronically
The benefits of telehealth include reduced “site” visits that enable access in doctors’ offices for “sicker” patients, continuity of care, and, in the case of remote patient monitoring, the management of prescribed care to ensure patient adherence (such as remote testing/reporting of A1C levels). Telehealth can provide triage and keep patients out of doctors’ offices for minor issues that might be handled remotely.
Date: September 27, 2019