Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital sees more deaths, longer stays after telehealth program

Many healthcare providers have been adopting telehealth programs with great results for both the organization and its patients. But that doesn’t mean all hospitals are having the same experience. 

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Some of the benefits of telehealth reported by hospitals include higher revenue due to an expanded patient reach, and lower readmission rates since preventive care can be delivered more easily before patients to come to the facility.

However, a recent report shows what can happen if telehealth programs don’t go as planned.

After the intensive care unit at Northside Medical Center in Youngstown, OH, began using telemedicine tools to remotely monitor patients, the hospital actually saw slight increases in lengths of stay and patient mortality rates, MedPage Today reports.

Though the sample size was small, the changes were worrisome, according to the researchers. From the year before the telehealth implementation to the year after, the hospital’s mortality rate climbed from 78 per 1,000 patients to 90. And the average length of stay went from 3 days to 3.2.

What went wrong?

While some other organizations have seen negative results after adopting a telehealth program, most hospitals benefit. One 2011 study found that on average, mortality rates drop by 20% and lengths of stay are shortened by 1.26 days, according to MedPage Today.

So what was different about Northside, and what can other hospitals learn from that facility’s experience?

One factor may have been that Northside is a teaching hospital that has greater access to personnel and other resources than some providers. Telemedicine may show the greatest improvement where resources are scarcer, officials said.

In addition, some observers had questions about the tools that were being used, noting the lack of a well-known telehealth vendor.

Here are some of the other lessons hospitals can learn from those successful telehealth programs:

  • Doctors must still hold patients accountable for maintaining their health, and organizations should provide patients with real-time feedback on how their lifestyle choices affect their conditions.
  • Doctors can talk to patients about the program, which can help make patients more engaged in their own care.
  • When telehealth enrollment follows an in-person visit, organizations should enroll participants in the programs before they leave the hospital — that will make it clear that telemedicine is a part of the person’s on-going care.

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