5 ways telemedicine is driving down healthcare costs

Telemedicine and mHealth have the potential to help the healthcare system meet the Institute of Healthcare Improvement's triple aim to simultaneously increase the quality of care, improve the health of populations and reduce the per capita cost of care.

"Collectively, investments in telemedicine and mHealth have great potential to reduce healthcare system costs," said Adam C. Powell, president of Payer+Provider Syndicate, a consulting firm that uses techniques from health services research to bring about change in the health insurance and hospital industries.

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A 2011 study by Anna Sommers and Peter Cunningham released by the National Institute for Health Care Reform found that hospital readmissions within a month of discharge have cost over $16 billion each year. Telemedicine can be used to reduce readmissions and other adverse events at a cost that is less than the cost of the problems themselves.

Powell recently outlined the five ways that telemedicine can play an important role in decreasing overall healthcare spending.

1. Use of remote analysis services. Remote analysis services, like telepathology and teleradiology, can contribute to lower cost and higher quality care as they enable highly trained professionals to work as a pooled resource. Use of these remote services enables low-volume providers to have around the clock coverage at a lower cost. In smaller facilities, there may not be sufficient volume to keep a pathologist or radiologist fully occupied. Telemedicine enables fractional employment.

2. Remote monitoring technologies. Remote monitoring technologies are enabling patients to be monitored on an ambulatory basis when they previously may have needed to be monitored as inpatients. Given the high cost of providing inpatient services, though, moving some forms of observation to an outpatient basis substantially reduces the costs borne by the healthcare system.

3. mHealth monitoring technologies. The use of mHealth monitoring technologies reduces the cost of complications due to chronic disease. For instance, an increase in body weight due to fluid retention is often a sign that someone may soon need to be hospitalized due to heart failure. Disease managers with access to daily weight information may be able to help a person experiencing fluid retention get the care they need before a crisis occurs. Averting crises both improves the quality of care and lowers costs.

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4. At-home triage services. At home triage services facilitated by televisits with nurses and primary care physicians reduces the unnecessary (and expensive) use of emergency room visits.

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