Study: Hospitals can profit from the use of tele-emergency services

Hospitals can benefit financially from receiving tele-emergency services, primarily when such services are used as a substitute for backup calls for physician assistants or nurse practitioners to the emergency department, according to a study published this month in Telemedicine and e-Health.

While the researchers, from the University of Iowa and Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Avera Health, examined services offered from only one hub health system--Avera Health--they concluded that their analysis had broad applicability because of both the radius of Avera's services and the profiles of those facilities that used the services. As of September 2014, Avera's eEmergency services offered assistance to 89 remote EDs, and the critical access hospitals (CAHs) examined were similar in bed size to regional and national CAHs, according to the study's authors. Utilization information was studied in 49 rural hospitals where such services had been established as of 2012.

The researchers calculated potential revenue/savings and expenses, determining that in a high revenue/low expense scenario, hospitals earned $187,614. In a mid-range scenario, hospitals gained $49,841 in profit. In a low revenue/high expense scenario, hospitals lost $69,588.

"Tele-emergency has the potential to increase rural hospital revenue and savings and to reduce total emergency care costs for an insured cohort or population, a financially advantageous function in a capitated payment system," the authors said.

For St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, Montana, expanded tele-emergency services are helping pediatric patients receive better care, as there are roughly 20 licensed pediatricians in the state, according to Doris Barta, director of telehealth services in the Partners in Health Telemedicine Network at the hospital.

"We have the only 24/7 staffed pediatric intensive care unit in the state," Barta told Healthcare Informatics last year. "We believe that sharing this expertise has reduced the number of transfers of pediatric emergency department patients to tertiary hospitals."

In September 2014, the Health Resources and Services Administration announced that more than $2.3 million in grant money would go to the Evidence-Based Tele-Emergency Network Program, with another $600,000 going to the Telehealth Resource Centers; the money is being used to expand capabilities in remote emergency departments, and to determine the effectiveness of tele-emergency care for rural patients and providers.

Avera Health was among the facilities receiving funding for the Evidence-Based Tele-Emergency Network Program.

To learn more:
- here's the abstract

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