Healthcare News & Insights

Telehealth programs lead to reduced readmissions, better outcomes

Telehealth initiatives have the potential to drastically change the healthcare climate for hospitals.

In fact, several large pilot telehealth programs have already been effective in reducing healthcare costs and readmissions rates, according to a report from the Commonwealth Fund.

The report focuses on three healthcare organizations that adopted a remote patient monitoring (RPM) system: The Veterans Health Administration, Partners HealthCare, and Centura Health at Home.

In order to tackle the high rate of rehospitalization for Medicare patients, each of these organizations began enrolling patients in an RPM program.

Using various remote monitoring devices, a team of healthcare professionals from each organization kept a close eye on patients’ health status, intervening when needed. In some cases, patients had access to a 24-hour call center to assist them with any health-related inquiries.

Telehealth on a national scale

Perhaps the most notable telehealth program is the Veterans Health Administration’s Care Coordination/Home Telehealth program (CCHT), which has been in operation since 2003.

CCHT was designed to help manage the health of chronically ill patients who were at risk of deteriorating to the point of requiring long-term institutional care.

Overall, the program has led to a 40% reduction in overnight stays for patients in the program, compared to their pre-enrollment numbers. There’s been a significant decrease in hospital utilization for eight major conditions, including diabetes, hypertension and congestive heart failure. 40% reduction in overnight stays for patients in the program.

The strategies used by the VA’s CCHT program have resulted in patient satisfaction rates of over 85%. Methods include:

  • Integrating the telehealth program into the organization’s overall goals and missions
  • Publicizing evidence supporting targeted outcomes to gain buy-in with the program from both staff and patients
  • Standardizing core program elements across the entire health system
  • Tailoring the system to meet the local needs of patients, and
  • Establishing a national training center to provide standardized training to staff.

Focus on the heart

In 2006, Partners HealthCare created its Connected Cardiac Care Program, which was designed to reduce preventable hospital readmissions in heart failure patients.

The results have been promising. Since its inception, over 1,200 patients have participated in the program, and there’s been a 51% reduction in heart failure readmission rates for enrolled patients. In addition, readmissions that weren’t related to heart failure decreased by 44%.

Participating patients also gained a better understanding of their condition and how to manage their health on their own.  This has lead to high patient satisfaction and cost savings of over $10 million.

To achieve such high success rates, Partners HealthCare:

  • Enrolled patients in the program on an opt-out basis
  • Engaged patients in their own self care through the use of technology, and
  • Made patients accountable for maintaining their health by providing them with real-time feedback on how their lifestyle choices affected their conditions.

Exceeding expectations

Centura Health at Home targeted its home healthcare patients with congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes for its yearlong telehealth pilot program.

The project’s initial goal was to reduce readmissions rates for these conditions by 2%. It far exceeded that goal – readmissions rates were reduced by 62%. Additionally, the total number of emergency department visits for participants went from 283 to 21.

Key elements that made the project successful included:

  • Introducing patients to the program before they’re discharged from the hospital
  • Having clinicians discuss the program with patients directly
  • Staffing a call center with nurses educated on managing chronic diseases, and
  • Providing patients with real-time education to improve self-management of their illness.

Lessons learned

Although each of these organizations used slightly different methods to create their telehealth program, all of them had certain elements in common.

One of the most important elements for success with a telehealth program is fostering a sense of teamwork among healthcare professionals and patients at all levels of their recovery, from hospital admission to post-discharge. Without having all participants educated and engaged, success isn’t possible.

It’s also important to consider the scale of such a program. Change won’t happen overnight. It takes time and a willingness to invest in the resources required to make it work, including technology and training.

Hospitals must be at the forefront of such efforts, as telehealth programs seem to have the most success when hospital staff introduce them to patients, and encourage patients to utilize all available resources to manage their health once they’re discharged.

Ultimately, with the right level of commitment, a telehealth program can make a huge difference in preventing patients from being readmitted to the hospital while transforming the healthcare system as a whole.

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  1. […] by Hospitals and Hospital Networks, topping its list of Most Wired Hospitals in 2013. With so many benefits of telehealth, including cost savings, increased patient access to service, and excellent feedback from patients, […]

  2. […] by Hospitals and Hospital Networks, topping its list of Most Wired Hospitals in 2013. With so many benefits of telehealth, including cost savings, increased patient access to service, and excellent feedback from patients, […]

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