Kaiser docs use video to take a step forward into patients' homes

By Judy Mottl, for FierceMobileHealthcare

Two Kaiser Permanente doctors are treating patients via video conferencing as part of a new free telemedicine program aimed at reducing costs, boosting improving patient care and luring new clients.

The program--dubbed HouseCalls--is available in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland. Kaiser physicians are treating about 15 video-based patients daily, according to a Washington Post report. The goal is to provide the 20-minute telemedicine appointments to about 30 patients each day.                                

HouseCalls arrives at a time when healthcare providers are seeking more efficient ways to provide quality healthcare and as demand for such mobile healthcare tools increases given smartphone capabilities and development of advanced networks supporting video conferencing and file sharing.

According to a survey of employer-sponsored health plans published by Mercer in February 2013, 10 percent of large employers, defined as those with 500 workers or more, are using telemedicine and 17 percent are considering use. A recent MarketWatch report revealed that companies with more than 5,000 workers increasingly are jumping on telemedicine services, with 17 percent using such tools compared to 12 percent in 2012 (citing another Mercer study).

The opportunity for healthcare providers to save money is compelling and described as a "huge benefit" for Kaiser by Jody Crane, one of the two Kaiser physicians who developed HouseCalls.

"From a cost perspective, if I can treat a patient without having them go to the emergency room, that's a huge benefit for us," Crane tells the Washington Post. "That patient still stays in our system and they're cared for by our doctors, but we don't need the nurse or all the other things you would typically need to care for that patient."

The savings, Crane adds, will allow Kaiser to reduce insurance premiums while attracting more clients. It's also giving patients healthcare technology they want and are increasingly expecting from healthcare providers, says Crane, who developed the program with fellow Kaiser physician Dennis Truong.

"The new society is I want what's convenient for me at a price I'm willing to pay in a way that fits into my lifestyle. The days of taking the day off work to go in to see your doctor are coming to an end. Instead, I'm going to take my lunch break and I'm going to do a video review with my doctor," Crane says.

The two physicians view HouseCalls as "nascent steps" that will lead to telemedicine that allows medical staff to remotely monitor everything from glucose levels to oxygen readings and even being alerted when an emergency health crisis is happening with a patient.

"In five years, all of this technology will be driven to the home," Crane says, predicting it will be ubiquitous in a decade.

For more details:
- read the Washington Post report
- read Mercer survey
- read MarketWatch article