Telemedicine involves “the exchange of medical information from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s health status.” It’s the clinical component to telehealth, which also encompasses non-clinical services. In particular, telehealth is anticipated to have a significant impact on home health care.
Telehealth, then and now
It started as a means of serving patients in remote areas but has since grown to become a critical part of evaluations and treatment across a full spectrum of healthcare organizations, including hospitals, private physicians offices, and home health agencies.
While telehealth may have originated with the telephone, it now encompasses many dynamic forms of technology, including two-way video, smartphones, email and other wireless tools. Telehealth offers a number of services that are used to extend the reach of traditional health care, including primary care and specialist referral services, remote patient monitoring for homebound patients or as a supplement to visiting nurse care, access to consumer medical and health information, and continuing education opportunities for nurses and other health care professionals.
The benefits of telehealth
A recent health care conference (U.S. News Healthcare of Tomorrow) made it known that telehelath should not be viewed as a supplement to modern medicine, but as an integral and necessary part of the system. Telehealth options can equal less stress for providers, patients and their families.
While the full potential of telehealth is still emerging, its benefits can currently be grouped into four fundamental areas.
- Telehealth promises improved access to patients all over the world—potentially millions of previously unreachable patients.
- It’s linked with increased efficiency and lowered costs because of decreased travel time, shared staffing, shorter hospital stays, and improved chronic disease management.
- Telehealth enhances care quality, resulting in life-saving diagnoses and treatments.
- Improved patient satisfaction can be a result of offering telehealth as consumers have come to demand it.
Telehealth in practice
The benefits of telemedicine and telehealth services are growing increasingly evident. For example, a telehealth program developed by national home care provider Senior Helpers in partnership with Capitol Coordinated Medicine and Curavi Health found value in using telepresenters to coordinate home-based health care for frail, elderly patients.
The study, piloted earlier this year in Washington, D.C., used skilled homecare workers as stand-ins for doctors, and was found to improve care and reduce costs. The program was tested with 33 elderly patients in and around Washington, D.C., who required in-home care.
The main takeaway was that the telehealth platform reduced the cost of in-home care by 44 percent. They also reported cost savings in travel time and the amount of time spent in each patient’s home.
Patients reacted positively to the telehealth visit, with some saying they could see a provider sooner through telehealth than they could in person. The telehealth platform also helped reduce trips to the emergency room. On the downside, reimbursements through Medicare and other payers for in-home telehealth visits are not always covered.
Those involved with the pilot project offered several recommendations, including lobbying for better reimbursement for the use of telemedicine in home-based care, training visiting nurses to become more active in the connected health program and developing home evaluations prior to visits to evaluate social determinants of health.
While telehealth is still in its nascent stages, it is opening new avenues in home health care, such as telehealth nursing. As more studies are conducted and new evidence comes in, it’s important to keep up on these developments as they change—and likely improve—the face of home health care.