With the widespread adoption of virtualization and technological platforms in the healthcare industry, the medical community is in the face of metamorphosis as telehealth gains more significance to provide specialized care management. Technology is aiding in home health and hospital readmission rates and transforming how care management is administered: from Artificial Intelligence-powered medical care platforms to big data generating life-changing predictions for the industry, from remote patient monitoring improving clinical outcomes to implanted medical instruments assisting patients, managing their chronic diseases, the telehealth industry has boosted the quality of care for patients, and reduced hospitalization and exacerbation rates.
This digital medical care revolution is benefiting patients in the comfort of their homes by constant monitoring and assistance in treatment and is allowing medical practitioners to communicate with a greater number of patients.
Telehealth platforms and transforming the quality of healthcare
Read more on Improving Geriatric Care and Reducing Hospitalization
Telehealth platforms include live videos and two-way connections between the patient and the healthcare provider; remote patient monitoring where vital signs are regulated and communicated to the practitioner, store-and-forward practices of a healthcare provider sending the historical records and medical test results to specialists, video conferencing for real-time consultations between the patient and medical provider, and device-agnostic systems and wearable or portable smart devices that track a patient’s condition and their safety and security.
Numerous medical ailments, such as cardiovascular disease, can negatively influence the mental health of patients and result in behavioral health difficulties like depression, stress, and anxiety. These behavioral obstacles can hinder the treatment and recovery of patients. A recent analysis publicized in the American Journal of Managed Care demonstrates that a telehealth management project had a favorable effect on the healthcare of patients with cardiac disease.
Four hundred patients with cardiac diseases were employed and were divided into two sections, patients that partook in the two-month behavioral health program and patients that did not. The project incorporated 16 audio or video conferences where medical and social workers empowered patients with psychological assistance and assessed their progress on their chronic disease and their mental health. The analysts recorded the healthcare center admissions and duration of visits for six months after the first consultation and the statistics were distinguished with the numbers in the control group.
The findings of the research substantiated that the telehealth management program had a beneficial impact on the patients’ condition, both mental and physical. It was found that patients who participated in the two-month program had reduced rates of depression, anxiety, and stress than the control group. Moreover, over six months, patients who participated had 38% lesser hospital admissions, and 31% lesser readmissions. Patients admitted to the hospital and were members of the behavioral program were less likely to revisit the hospital more than once and spent a shorter period in inpatient care. While the program reduced the financial expenditure of patients, it also boosted the engagement of patients with their care and they were more aware of their condition, treatment and the medical procedures.
Are exacerbation rates on the rise or fall?
The most significant socio-economic benefit of telehealth is the reduction in exacerbations, which has resulted in lower rates of hospitalization and re-admissions. Acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis (AECB) are a prominent reason for hospitalizations and readmissions and is the largest financial cost of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) gauged the nationwide expense of medical care in healthcare centers over all incidents of COPD in 2007 to be US$11.3 billion.
A telehealth initial survey of 16 patients with life-threatening COPD aimed to evaluate the consequences that a type of telehealth platform, such as a mobile health strategy could have on the timely and rapid identification of AECOPD daily. Patients who were employing the telehealth service were instructed to regularly check their vital signs while answering a computerized questionnaire for COPD exacerbations.
The research deduced that the questionnaire discovered early stages of AECOPD before medical attention was given to 15 patients, enabling the telehealth service to be a preferable and exceptional choice for high-risk COPD patients. Hence, exacerbation of the COPD patients diminished with a substantial decrease in hospitalizations and the usage of supplementary acute medical care services. Furthermore, the research indicated an overall advancement in the quality of life and patient contentment.
Virtual Care and hospitalization
According to Applied Clinical Informatics, a study was conducted to review how telehealth can decrease Hospital readmissions in Patients with Cardiac Arrest who were obtaining professional healthcare services from one Medicare-qualified health agency.
By applying the Transitional Care structure as a template, the telehealth program employed a 4G wireless communication system with an iPad based technology that compiles patient vital signs (weight, pulse rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels) and is uploaded with personal questions related to the illness and warnings, and guidance material. The study concluded that the telehealth platform linked with a decrease in all-cause 30-day readmission hospitalizations for one small Medicare-qualified home health organization. Thus, remote patient monitoring has enabled telehealth to be a desirable, feasible and reasonable platform for patients with chronic diseases (chronic lung infections, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrest, hip, and knee bone replacements, mental health illnesses, pneumonia, and septicemia), acute illnesses, and for older adults, while enhancing the proficiency of a patient to ensure their care, treatment, and procedures.
While the telehealth industry is a quarter trillion dollar future, the industry must expand its boundaries. The telemedicine infrastructure must be permanently available, affordable, and accessible to all, especially older adults who must be equipped with fundamental mobile health education, and people from lower socio-economic statuses or remote areas must have accessible and affordable telehealth services, funded by the Medicare Program. Moreover, service consistency and payment parity schemes must be ensured for patients who require telemedicine.
However, patients may encounter potential trade-offs. For the sake of better quality of care, reduced hospitalization costs, timely treatments, and prevention of diseases, there may be privacy issues and differences in medical care across patients. Keeping the above in mind, stakeholders such as patients, healthcare providers, and the government must aim to encourage promising quality healthcare from telehealth services at reasonable prices and impacting home health and hospital readmission rates.
Kelton High is a Social Sciences undergraduate who majored in International Relations, with a budding interest in qualitative research. He has previously worked at Transparency International.