Is It Time to Get on the Telehealth Bandwagon?

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Karen Utterback By Karen Utterback 
Former Vice President, Product Marketing and Strategy, McKesson (Retired)

Global Telecommunications - TelehealthAlthough neither Medicare nor Medicaid currently offers reimbursement for the use of telehealth in home health, the future of that portion of the healthcare industry appears bright. Agencies have partnered with primary care physicians, payers and others to monitor at-risk patient populations to manage chronic conditions or to reduce hospital readmissions.

Telehealth appears to have more traction in other parts of the world, although there have been several significant pilot projects in the U.S. that have shown good results. The VA Northwest Health Network, which primarily encompasses Alaska, Washington, Oregon and most of Idaho, saved $742,000 during fiscal year 2011 through more than 23,000 remote consultations. Veterans in those areas are spread out, which makes in-home visits particularly cumbersome.

U.S. insurers are paying for cardiac monitoring for outpatients, fueling a growth in telehealth for this sector, according to Jupiter Research. The firm adds that monitoring for such chronic conditions as diabetes and COPD likely will increase in the near future, bolstered by separate pilots in California covering COPD and gestational diabetes.

A study of 6,000 patients in the United Kingdom with diabetes, heart failure or COPD showed that remote monitoring reduced mortality rates by 45% over a three-year period. The study also showed reductions in ER visits (15%), emergency admissions (20%), elective admissions (14%) and bed days (14%).

Australia has committed more than $24 million (US) to launch a telehealth program for older Australians with cancer and those needing palliative care. The pilot, which aims to improve access to healthcare services and specialists, is expected to begin in July.

Research group Frost & Sullivan projects that the market for remote monitoring technology will total nearly $300 million by 2015.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) introduced the Fostering Independence Through Technology Act in March 2011 that directs the Health and Human Services secretary “to conduct pilot projects under title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act for the purpose of providing incentives to home health agencies to utilize home monitoring and communications technology.” The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, where it currently sits.

If the home health industry truly is ready to embrace telehealth, let your legislators know how your agency feels about this important issue.

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