Telehealth: Money and mission in one sustainable package

Whenever I write about telehealth, I still picture the first remote technology I ever saw at a trade show. The computer had a large monitor with a camera and microphone practically duct taped atop it, the whole ungainly contraption perched upon a spindly metal cart. I guess you could call it mobile health ... in that a nurse could wheel the cart into the patient's room.  

Not so long ago, healthcare leaders were still unsure about the financial ROI or the clinical benefits of such technologies. In what seems like a very short time, though, telehealth programs have become established service lines in many hospitals and health systems. And today it's clear that telehealth can save lives, reduce costs, improve patient access to care and increase market share.

"Telehealth reduces mortality, hospitalizations, duration of stay and improves drug adherence. If you had any drug that had the outcome measures demonstrated by telehealth, you would have a blockbuster," Chris Wasden, global health innovation leader for the consultancy PwC, tells FierceHealthIT in an interview for our newest eBook, Telehealth Monitoring: Creating profitable, sustainable programs.

Throughout the eBook, it strikes me that the people we interviewed are talking about money and mission--the two big question marks back in the days when we still called computer carts "COWs." 

In the eBook, we describe a number of successful programs, including the latest efforts at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Health System. UCLA offers remote consultation and monitoring in nearly every service line, including neurology and stroke care, radiology, neonatal intensive care, family medicine, surgery and a variety of pediatric specialties.

The programs have increased referrals, for sure, says Peter Kung, UCLA's director of innovative technologies. But it's also driving mission. "The main ROI we see now is a halo effect," he says in an interview for the eBook. "We are expanding our reach, partnering with organizations outside our community, and achieving our three missions as an academic medical center of research and teaching as well as treatment."

The telehealth business is booming at organizations that deliver remote consultations and care--but the benefit to patients, including seriously injured military personnel and those in rural areas is coming into clear focus, as well.

At Coffee Regional Medical Center (CRMC), the only hospital in Douglas, Ga., and surrounding Coffee County, telehealth has transformed how they deliver patient care and how they do business.

"Our families are very grateful not to have to travel far, and our local doctors like that they have more control of their patients' care. When we referred patients out of town for consultations, often the physician would refer the child to other specialists close to them--even if we had that specialty in Douglas," Debra Lister, M.D., medical director of the telemedicine program says in the eBook.

The eBook includes a Q&A interview with UCLA's Kung, a case study of the partnership between CRMC and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, an update on the status of telehealth reimbursement nationwide, and advice on how to create sustainable programs. Be sure to check it out and let me know what you think. - Gienna (@Gienna and @FierceHealthIT)

To learn more, download the free FierceHealthIT eBook, Telehealth Monitoring: Creating profitable, sustainable programs.