Telemedicine is thriving these days -- there is even an ad on prime-time featuring it -- and a key reason are the ways telemedicine lowers the cost of healthcare. One indicator of this is the political support: "Telehealth is a major contributing factor to increased health care quality, convenience, and lower costs," said Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio). And there is certainly anecdotal evidence from around the country, like this tele-dermatology program in Nantucket saving nearly $29,000 a year.
In fact, we've found that the people and organizations that use iClickCare experience such significant and immediate cost savings that we've even incorporated an ROI calculator on our website. Dr Michael Moore, director of a wound care program, reported that "During a 3 month period, 70 patients were treated solely using iClickCare with an overall healing rate of 93% and an estimated savings of $24,000 in transportation costs alone."
Of course, despite its clear potential and proof points, telemedicine doesn't always cut costs. It's important to look at projects like this one for lessons from the front lines about what really works, and what doesn't.
So if you're considering a telemedicine program in your hospital, practice, or region...
5 things to keep in mind to ensure telemedicine lowers the cost of healthcare:
- As we shared in this post, you are not setting yourself up for success if you make huge investments in hardware. We recommend investing in software (which can be updated, and is generally the lowest portion of costs) rather than hardware which gets obsolete quickly. Use the equipment you already have, the spaces already available to you, and just start.
- Give special attention to readmissions and length of stay. Readmissions within a month of discharge cost $16 billion per year. And as we all know, readmissions and length of stay are big parts of the ACA shared outcomes focus. So we're interested in data showing that medical collaboration may be one of the strongest ways to decrease length of stay... and in this Connected Cardiac Care program, which has achieved a 51% decrease in readmissions with telehealth monitoring.
- Prioritize rural areas or very urban areas. Geographically removed areas (whether rural or inner-city) find the most cost-cutting benefits from telemedicine. "By decreasing the importance of location for healthcare provision, telemedicine can help increase competition and further lower healthcare spending for primary care and specialist consultations... using technology to allow health care workers to quickly serve those where there is the greatest demand will create a more efficient health care system overall," says Ben Miller of the WFS.
- Use your people effectively. Because of the provider shortage, the leveling of access helps cut costs and use our provider workforce most efficiently. As Dr. Brian Rosenfeld, Chief Medical Officer at Philips Healthcare, said, "Telehealth offers the opportunity to provide the access, quality and cost that will be necessary to increase prevention and leverage our current workforce."
- Work in coordination with the Affordable Care Act. Telemedicine may prove to be the linchpin in controlling costs and outcomes as the Affordable Care Act comes into being more broadly, according to Mario Gutierrez, executive director for the Center for Connected Health Policy.
Overall, we've seen over and over again the cost savings that can be experienced through telemedicine. But we do suggest keeping it simple, start small, and start today.
For an overview of choices in telemedicine, download the Quick Guide to Telemedicine
Image courtesy of seeminglee on flickr.com, used under Creative Commons rights.