Three reasons telehealth is revolutionizing outpatient recovery

By Lee Horner / Special to Healthcare Facility Today
September 18, 2017

Hospitals, health systems, and health plans are increasingly focused on minimizing avoidable readmissions, with CMS mandating that hospitals reduce avoidable readmissions within 30 days of patient discharge from the hospital. The program, called the Hospitals Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP), has been in effect since 2012, and telehealth has since become a robust solution for successful outpatient recovery and reduced readmissions.

Here are three reasons why telehealth services  have come to play an influential and prominent role in reducing hospital readmissions:

Reduced costs

In order to reduce healthcare costs and improve patient outcomes, Medicare and private insurers use penalties and incentives to try to reduce readmissions, often targeting the 30 days after discharge goal. According to the Center for Health Information and Analysis, the estimated annual cost of this problem for Medicare is $26 billion annually—$17 billion of which is considered avoidable.  

Better post-discharge treatment

Readmission risk is not necessarily related to the initial cause of hospitalization. Hospitalization itself can induce significant stress in patients that may have unfortunate lasting effects post hospital care. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that patients may experience the following at the time of discharge: impaired physiological systems, depleted reserves, and inability of body to effectively defend against health threats.

A comprehensive transition program, which utilizes telehealth to engage patients as well as their respective caregivers, can help reduce readmissions. For example:

  • Engaged patients are less likely to be readmitted. In a pilot with approximately 350 chronic heart failure patients, a Philadelphia hospital was able to reduce its 30-day readmissions by 10% by using email and text message reminders with patients for follow-up appointments.

  • Including patients’ caregivers (e.g., patients’ family members, friends, and/or neighbors) in the discharge process can also minimize hospital readmittance. In a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, caregivers were integrated during discharge planning, which resulted in a 25% reduction in the risk of elderly patients being readmitted to the hospital within 90 days of discharge and a 24% reduction in the risk of readmission within 180 days.

Monitoring and motivating

Telehealth is increasingly being used as a viable and valuable way for providers and medical staff to conveniently remain in touch with discharged patients and their caregivers. Upon discharge, the medical staff should clearly set expectations for how/when patients will communicate with their provider and how telehealth will be used to facilitate follow-up care.

One of the biggest benefits? The reduction of travel time and expenses for all involved. Instead of needing to drive (or arrange for a ride with one’s caregiver) to a follow-up appointment, patients can participate in their follow-up care from the convenience and comfort of their home.   And, instead of needing time to drive to various patients’ homes throughout the day, case managers can “see” and support more patients from one location.  

Telehealth solutions provide opportunities to strengthen human connections through innovative technology. Whether it involves monitoring and motivating patients or providing quick access to specialists, telehealth solutions are designed to simplify—and improve—all phases of patient care.

 Lee Horner is President of Synzi.



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