Telehealth cuts readmission rates, earns system a speedy return on investment

Saint Vincent Health System in Erie, Pa., reports that using telemedicine technology has reduced readmissions in its 26 Pennsylvania facilities--and also netted a 100 percent return on investment in just two months.

St. Vincent's success story echoes the findings of Geisinger Health Plan's two-year study of home telemonitoring. That trial showed a 44 percent drop in readmissions among the monitored patients compared to a control group.

The Geisinger study looked at the use of an interactive voice response system for monitoring patients with congestive heart failure. The IVR system enabled the patients to report their weight and answer a series of questions about their symptoms. 

Another recent study showed that telemonitoring had a sustained positive effect on the outcomes of patients with diabetes. Building on an earlier trial involving veterans, the study showed that these effects persisted even as the intensity of monitoring decreased, FierceHealthIT reported yesterday.

Payers and providers are increasingly recognizing the financial benefits of remote healthcare and adjusting their payment models accordingly. Pennsylvania just announced it will expand coverage of telemedicine in its Medicaid program, for example. Earlier this year, the VA has said it will waive co-pays on telehealth visits because the visits cost less to provide. 

Saint Vincent's telemedicine program includes Bluetooth-enabled stethoscopes that let physicians listen to patients' heart and lung sounds remotely, videoconferencing between primary care physicians in rural hospitals and specialists in bigger facilities, stroke, cardiology, and oncology telehealth offerings and a bariatric wellness program. 

The expansion of Saint Vincent's bariatric program accounted for most of the return on investment in the technology, which was provided by Pleasanton, Calif.-based Polycom, the company said in a statement.

"Rural medicine is such a challenge due to the distances that must be covered and limited resources," Philip Wolford, coordinator of Saint Vincent's regional telemedicine network, said in the statement. "By reducing rehospitalizations, our program is driving costs down for patients and other payers."

To learn more:
- read the Saint Vincent/Polycom statement
- see the Geisinger announcement
- see the state of Pennsylvania's announcement

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