From a clinical perspective, modern medicine often borders on the miraculous. From a business perspective, however, it’s another story.
Hospitals, clinics and other medical practices are under tremendous pressure to be profitable despite escalating costs and downward pressure on pricing. Mandated by the Affordable Care Act, the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program puts further financial pressure on practitioners to get things right the first time. So practices of all kinds must aggressively find ways to achieve better results for less money.
Telemedicine can play a central role in this quest for greater efficiency. The classic example is remote diagnosis, in which medical specialists examine and interact with patients via a high-tech cart complete with video, audio and data-sharing capabilities. Remote diagnosis benefits patients by giving them access to a broader range of specialists. And it benefits providers by allowing them to leverage the clinical expertise of individual doctors across a broader geographic area.
But telemedicine is about much more than remote diagnosis. In fact, advanced communication technologies can reduce costs and improve patient outcomes in a number of ways.
Thinking Outside the Cart
- Field nursing: Instead of constantly readmitting patients with chronic health issues, some hospitals provide specially trained nurse-practitioners with iPads and mobile applications that enable them to visit patients in their own homes. The field nursing approach is a cost-effective way of providing patients with the ongoing follow-up care they need while reducing hospital readmission rates.
- Telepresence clinics: Pain management is one of the toughest clinical challenges hospitals face — and one of the biggest quality-of-life issues for patients. It can also contribute to high readmission rates. To address this challenge, one large healthcare network in California invested in a telepresence facility where it can run sophisticated pain-management seminars.
- The virtual nursery: A hospital specializing in premature births is using technology to overcome the heart-wrenching problem of parents who can’t have close contact with their newborns because their babies’ conditions are too delicate. In this case, a two-way audio/video feed enables parents to see their incubated preemies and speak comfortingly to them at any time of the day or night, resulting in better clinical outcomes and reduced emotional distress.
The IT Challenge
These examples highlight a key fact about telemedicine: Success requires both the right use case and the right technology. One size definitely does not fit all. The IT department must put together hardware, software and networking (often mobile and/or Wi-Fi) that best fits the target use case. It has to implement strong security to protect sensitive patient information. And it needs a means of monitoring and troubleshooting to avoid downtime that could affect someone’s health.
That’s no easy task, but the rewards are significant. Healthcare providers that successfully implement telemedicine can reduce costs and in readmissions, and build a stronger brand in the communities they serve, all while improving patient care. Those results make the effort and investment worthwhile.