Study: Telehealth boosts veterans' management of chronic care

According to a new study, veterans with chronic conditions who are provided with home health technology from the Department of Veterans Affairs are better able to manage their health and avoid hospitalization.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal Telemedicine and e-Health and was authored by VA national telehealth staff members. It looks at health outcomes from 17,025 VA home telehealth patients.

Patients who used home telehealth were able to reduce the average number of days hospitalized by 25 percent and reduce hospitalization by 19 percent, the study found. The data also showed that the cost of telehealth services averaged $1,600 per patient a year - much lower than in-home clinician care costs, authors say.

"The study showed that home telehealth makes healthcare more effective because it improves patients' access to care and is easy to use," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs James B. Peake. "A real plus is that this approach to care can be sustained because it's so cost-effective and more veteran-centric. Patients in rural areas are increasingly finding that telehealth improves their access to healthcare and promotes their ongoing relationship with our healthcare system."

VA's home telehealth program cares for 35,000 patients and is reportedly the largest of its kind in the world.

Adam Darkins, chief consultant in VA's care coordination program and the study's lead author, said  clinicians and managers in healthcare systems, as well as information technology professionals, have been awaiting the results of the telehealth study.

"The results are not really about the technology, but about how using it helps coordinate the full scope of care our patients need," said Darkins. "It permits us to give the right care in the right place at the right time."

According to the VA's Under Secretary for Health, Michael J. Kussman, the key to the program's success is the VA's computerized patient record system.

"Data obtained from the home such as blood pressure and blood glucose, along with other patient information in the electronic system, allows our healthcare teams to anticipate and prevent avoidable problems," he said.

VA healthcare officials said home telehealth does not necessarily replace nursing home care or traditional care but can help veterans understand and manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and chronic heart failure. Patients' partnerships with the medical team can delay the need for institutional care and maintain independence for an extended time, they said.