Reducing Nursing Home Hospitalizations with Telehealth
According to a study from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), more than half of all hospitalizations that occur in nursing home patients are unnecessary. In a year-long investigation with eleven nursing homes in Massachusetts, telehealth effectiveness was evaluated and deemed, in certain situations, as a viable alternative to hospitalization.
When physicians in nursing home facilities are absent or unavailable (due to tight budgets, physician shortages, holidays, etc.), the percentage of patients admitted to hospitals increases. In each of the participating nursing homes, telemedicine videoconferencing devices were installed, making it possible for medical providers to remotely consult with these patients. 1,413 visits were conducted using this method. Ultimately, the study concluded that hospitalizations declined 9.7% in facilities that implemented these treatment options.
Researchers encountered two main issues with the use of a telemedicine care delivery: Medicare and staff compliance. Currently, the lack of integration between Medicare/Medicaid and telehealth has proven to be problematic and costly, prompting a few pieces of legislation to be created. They aim to create a financial model that benefits Medicare/Medicaid, as well as individual providers and the facilities adopting telemedicine practices. Secondly, medical providers have been slow to adopt telemedicine, due to uncertainties regarding its effectiveness, safety, and accuracy. However, with increasing numbers of studies being performed, treating patients online for low-acuity conditions has proven to be successful.
Monitoring chronic diseases, which are prevalent in the elderly population, is a key reason why telemedicine is beneficial in nursing homes. With more and more people using the Internet to self-diagnose and obtain additional information, why shouldn’t they use it to speak with a provider? These “e-patients” will cut hospitalization costs and unnecessary spending on conditions that can be easily monitored over secure Internet-based visits.