Neurological telehealth efforts successful for follow-up care

By Mark Terry

A majority of patients who received neurologic follow-up care via video telehealth technologies were "highly satisfied" with the results, according to new research published this month in Telemedicine and e-Health.

The study looked at 354 consecutive patient visits over a two-year period in rural areas of New Mexico, southern Colorado, eastern Arizona and western Texas. Of those involved, 87 percent evaluated the approach as improving satisfaction; 90 percent of the patients reported they were "fully satisfied."

This process has been smoothed out significantly by recent changes in government regulations concerning telehealth. In a final rule published by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services last week, provisions were made to eliminate the requirement for physicians who work at small critical access hospitals, rural health clinics and federally-qualified health centers to follow strict onsite schedules.

"By eliminating stumbling blocks and red tape we can assure that the healthcare that reaches patients is more timely, that it's the right treatment for the right patient, and greater efficiency improves patient care across the board," CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said of that and other rules eliminated by the agency's final rule.

While telestroke programs are valuable for rural areas with the proper facilitators and state policies, they're not without their barriers, according to a study published earlier this year, also in Telemedicine and e-Health. For that study, researchers from the Fulton County Juvenile Court, Columbus Technologies and Services and the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta reviewed statutes and regulations in all 50 states that affect the adoption of telemedicine programs. Barriers to telestroke programs identified by the authors included medical liability and malpractice across state lines. 

Still, the new study found significant cost savings and convenience in the VHA teleneurology program. On average, patients saved five hours and 325 miles of driving, and cost savings were evaluated at $48,000 per patient annually.

What's more, providers were convinced that care provided to both teleneurology and clinic follow-up patients was "equivalent."

To learn more:
- read Telemedicine and e-Health study (.pdf)

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