Mass General aims to extend reach to patients via telehealth pilot

Officials at Massachusetts General Hospital hope that a telehealth pilot program announced this week can help to improve care provided for heart failure and neurology patients, as well as for children considered hyperactive and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

For the six-month pilot, physicians will see patients via real-time video visits using a web-based care platform provided by American Well. According to Lee Schwamm, vice chair of neurology and medical director of telehealth at MGH, such tools are vital for improving care access, particularly for patients with geographic or monetary limitations.

"The technology enables us to extend our reach and deliver the highest quality of care to members of our own system and to a broader population of patients, as well," Schwamm said in a statement.

For heart failure patients, the program will focus on closely monitoring their condition. For the children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism, the program enables parents to schedule after-school appointments, a process that often proves to be challenging.

For the neurology patients who often have mobility issues, the pilot will focus on providing follow-up care.

Telehealth technology will be among the most likely to help hospitals lower readmission rates and thus limit readmissions penalties, according to an article published this week in Scientific American. While some hurdles such as data protection loom large when it comes to the technology's use, its growth in the industry is undeniable.

Last month, Sens. Amy Kobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) reintroduced a bill to Congress aimed at boosting telehealth use to reduce hospital readmissions for Medicare beneficiaries in rural and underserved areas. The bill calls on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to develop pilot projects that ultimately would provide incentives for home health agencies that choose to take advantage of remote patient monitoring and communications technologies.

A study recently published in BMJ that was part of the British government's Whole System Demonstrator Evaluation of telehealth determined that such technology failed to produce gains more cost effectively than standard care alone for patients with chronic conditions.

To learn more:
- here's the announcement
- read the Scientific American article