By Jim Reilly, Vice President, Healthcare Division
As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across the globe, telehealth has rapidly emerged as an essential solution for health care delivery amidst the pandemic. Demand for telehealth services has surged since the beginning of the crisis, including its adoption and usage by health care providers and health insurers.
Recent data from The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has shown that almost half of all Medicare primary care visits were conducted via telehealth in April, compared to less than 1 percent in February before the beginning of the pandemic.¹ According to another report, nearly 76 percent of U.S. hospitals are now using telehealth to connect patients remotely via video, audio, text, and other technologies.²
Swift changes made to legislation making reimbursement available for telehealth helped accelerate its adoption, making it more financially feasible for providers to offer these services to their patients. These developments helped spur telehealth’s expansion and bring change to traditional health care delivery models, by bridging the gap between patients, physicians, and health care systems.
Benefits and Potential Uses of Telehealth
Telehealth services deliver a multitude of uses and benefits across the health care system, including expanded access to care, reduced potential exposure to COVID-19 for medical staff and patients, the continuum of care for patients with chronic conditions, and reduced hospitalizations and readmissions.
Expanding Access to Care
Telehealth is especially crucial for individuals living in rural settings, older adults, chronically ill patients and those with limited mobility. Teleconsultations and remote patient monitoring help these patients avoid in-person clinic visits, minimizing their risks of potential exposure to COVID-19.
Rural states such as Idaho are benefiting from the expansion of telehealth during the pandemic, when the ability to provide remote health services to their population is critical. The state of Idaho recently implemented an integration between RPM solutions provider, Connect America, and their statewide health data exchange for expanded care access and telehealth services.
“The integration between Connect America RPM and Idaho Health Data Exchange (IHDE) is helping facilitate public health mitigation strategies by creating a safer option for health care personnel and patients.”
– Hans K., Executive Director, IHDE
Decreasing Risk of Potential Exposures
Telehealth and remote patient monitoring solutions are also being used to effectively pre-screen patients and health care workers who may have symptoms of COVID-19 prior to scheduled appointments and shifts, saving time and minimizing the risk of exposure for all.
St. Peter’s Health Partners is an example of a health care system that implemented a telehealth solution for remote COVID-19 screening for employees:
“On a Sunday in March, during an emergency internal COVID-19 planning call, I was asked to come up with a technological solution to remotely screen our nearly 1000 staff members for COVID-19 symptoms. Working with ConnectVitals™, our RPM partner for 4+ years, we had a robust, customized IVR COVID-19 screening platform up and running by that Wednesday morning.
The results: “We quickly replaced hundreds of inbound status calls and texts each morning with an automated outbound system that allows us to efficiently triage staff responses and ensure our employees are safe to provide patient care.”
– Lynette Turo, Director of Finance, Community Based Services, the Eddy
Maintaining Continuum of Care for Vulnerable Populations
Telehealth has been especially effective in helping hospitals, providers and caregivers maintain the continuum of care for their most vulnerable patient populations. With so many individuals on strict stay-at-home orders, telehealth services are helping mitigate the negative consequences of delayed care.
Telehealth solutions such as remote patient monitoring enable clinicians to monitor and review their patients’ vital signs remotely (e.g., blood pressure, blood glucose, and other remote assessments). They can receive alerts to potential problems or irregularities, allowing them to identify patients who may need further evaluation or medical consultation. RPM also encourages self-directed care and health engagement by enabling the patient to become more actively involved in their health.
Reducing Hospitalizations and Readmissions
Multiple studies have demonstrated telehealth’s ability to help reduce unnecessary hospitalizations and readmissions. According to a meta-analysis of telehealth studies published in the American Journal of Managed Care, hospitalizations for heart failure patients were reduced by 42 percent, and readmissions were reduced by 60 percent when RPM was used in place of standard care.³
Research from the New England Healthcare Institute demonstrated a 60 percent reduction in hospital readmissions with RPM compared to standard care and a 50 percent reduction compared to disease management programs without RPM.4
Telehealth Delivers Improved Outcomes
Overall, the evidence has demonstrated that telehealth has been able to help lower the strain on hospitals and health care providers during the pandemic while helping connect patients to care and reducing the risks of potential COVID-19 exposures.
A survey from the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition found that providers have seen positive results from using telehealth during the pandemic.5
The survey’s findings show strong support for telehealth:
- 60% reported that telehealth improved the health of their patients.
- 68% report they are motivated to increase telehealth use in their practices.
- 11% said they were using remote patient monitoring technologies with patients in their homes.
- 55% indicated that telehealth improved the satisfaction of their work.
- Over 80% of respondents indicated that telehealth improved the timeliness of care for their patients.
COVID-19 and Beyond
The rapid onset of COVID-19 has forced swift changes to traditional health care delivery methods and highlighted the necessity of telehealth, quickly creating a shift in the way care is delivered. Not only has telehealth been an essential tool during the pandemic, but its scale reaches far beyond the COVID-19 crisis. It has become the new standard.
As we move forward into 2021, the promise of new vaccines and expanded access to care provides increased possibilities with brighter days to come.
Jim Reilly is Vice President of the Healthcare Division at Connect America. Headquartered in Bala Cynwyd, PA with regional offices nationwide, Connect America offers a growing portfolio of leading medical alert systems, remote patient monitoring, and medication management solutions. With products and services designed to improve patient outcomes and contain the rising costs of healthcare, Connect America has been partnering with Medicare Advantage, Area Agencies on Aging, managed care organizations, home care, hospitals and many other healthcare organizations to deliver cutting-edge healthcare technologies to patients and individuals nationally for more than 35 years.