3 Ways Telehealth Can Reduce Hospital Readmissions

Hospital readmission penalties can cost a medical institution an average of 0.71% in Medicare payments for every patient discharged in the next 12 months. Read on to learn how telehealth can protect a hospital’s earnings by slashing readmissions.

RELATED: 9 Factors To Consider When Choosing A Telehealth Company

In this article:

  1. The True Cost of Hospital Readmissions to Medical Institutions
  2. Preventing Hospital Readmissions Through Telehealth Technology
  3. Current Applications of Telehealth

How Telehealth Systems Keep Hospital Readmission Rates Low

The True Cost of Hospital Readmissions to Medical Institutions

The data above comes from the most recent Kaiser Health News analysis.

The costs of healthcare continue to soar as patient care has ratcheted up to $1 trillion in the span of 17 years, from 1996 to 2013. The nation will see an increase in medical costs up to 50 billion per year for the next half-decade.

Hospital readmissions lead the drivers in this increase. This trend is quickly becoming obvious as reimbursements slide down in value due to readmission.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) calculates that hospital readmissions within the month after discharge costs medical institutions around $41 billion every single year. Taxpayers and businesses pay around 41%, or 17 billion, of the said amount.

The AHRQ states these penalties often stem from required return trips to the hospital after patients go home.

Hospitals receive penalties from readmissions due to:

  • Heart attacks
  • Heart failure
  • Chronic lung conditions
  • Mental health issues
  • Knee and hip replacements
  • Septicemia
  • Pneumonia

2017 proved to be a watershed year for hospital readmissions as at least 2,500 hospitals all over the country faced cumulative penalties amounting to more than half a billion, according to Advisory Board. Other data they presented include the following:

  • Experts see the lack of overarching patient healthcare management as one of the root causes of penalties. Since patients receive no advice on their conditions across different scenarios, they return to the hospitals that released them to gain follow-up support and care.
  • Discharge information remains an important stop-gap measure against hospital readmissions because it arms patients with the knowledge they need to monitor and take care of their own health outside of the hospital. Unfortunately, statistics show 24% of patients being released from the hospital do not receive discharge information and therefore come back to the emergency rooms of their discharging hospitals.

Hospitals are now employing telehealth as a way to reduce readmissions by extending their institution’s reach to their patients’ homes.

Preventing Hospital Readmissions Through Telehealth Technology

The bulk of hospital readmissions happen when a medical entity’s outpatient clinics close for the night. Patients seek help during these hours and opt to seek advice in emergency rooms since the specialists manning the clinics have already gone home.

Telemedicine can bring these down through the following:

1. Telehealth Can Extend Healthcare Beyond the Hospital Ward into the Home

A patient’s recovery will entail that healthcare remains consistent across different settings. This means medical professionals will have to make sure all of their patients’ overarching needs are met across a spectrum of specialties and conditions.

For example, nurses can act as advocates and coordinators for hip replacement surgery patients by scheduling their appointments with orthopedic doctors, physical therapists, and family members while updating each with relevant information on the patient across the board. The more complete picture the patient has of their condition, the less they’ll seek hospital readmission.

2. Telehealth Educates Patients on Their Conditions to Empower Them to Prevent Returns to the Hospital

Telehealth can provide healthcare education from a distance so patients can eliminate the need of going to hospitals physically. Doctors can go on video conference calls with patients in order to teach them key facts and tips on how to better manage their conditions.

Another way medical professionals can use telehealth is to create video tutorials on how to perform important self-care tips to patients with ongoing medical conditions. A hospital, for example, can invest in a video course that teaches how diabetics can monitor their blood sugar through monitors, measure and inject insulin, and manage symptoms.

RELATED: 7 Benefits Of Telehealth For Patient-Centered Care

3. Telehealth Allows Medical Institutions to Prevent Readmissions by Monitoring Patients’ Biomarkers Remotely

Telehealth technology may come in the form of devices like Fitbits and other smart wearables. The use of this tech can spell savings for medical institutions since doctors can gain a snapshot of their patients’ overall health through the measurements gathered by these devices.

It is even possible for medical institutions to even eliminate the need for human specialists to actively monitor these biomarkers by employing algorithms to predict a patient’s condition.

Cardiac patients have proven to be effective case studies for this use of telehealth since several devices monitor heart rates. Doctors can even implant these devices onto their patients’ hearts through surgery.

Current Applications of Telehealth

1. Monitoring of U.S. Veteran Health

The VA has been using telehealth since 2003 as a means to collect metrics on veterans’ health. Since the measure allowed the VA to accrue savings through the interventions they deliver with the aid of telehealth, the government institution has spread its use from mental health counseling, physical therapy, orthopedics, and occupational therapy and health.

2. Teleconferencing for Emergency Cases in Nursing Homes

Nursing facilities connect elderly patients with doctors during non-clinic hours through telehealth technology. Patients see their doctors through teleconferencing rather than visit actual emergency rooms since the latter can prove costly in terms of time and resources.

3. Delivery of Service in Senior Care Facilities

Doctors in senior care facilities use telehealth to educate their patients about common conditions like pneumonia, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. They also use wearables to monitor the seniors’ condition at any time.

Overall, medical professionals and institutions can reap positive results by reducing hospital readmissions through telehealth. Hospitals can also reproduce telehealth’s successes to safeguard their financial health and provide quality healthcare for their patients beyond the doors of an emergency room and even into their homes.

Have you encountered a telehealth service or telehealth tech before? How was your experience? Please share your experience in the comments section below.

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