Telemedicine racks up $1 million in cost avoidance savings for Tallahassee Memorial

With a vast rural population, the Florida hospital leaned on telehealth to improve transitional care.
By Bill Siwicki
09:17 AM
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Tallahassee Memorial Hospital exterior shot at night.

Tallahassee Memorial Hospital regularly saves upwards of $1 million per year in cost avoidance through its real-time video telehealth platform, despite not being able to bill for a vast majority of the telemedicine services it provides.

The technology also improved patient health, especially among its vast rural patient population for the non-profit community hospital in Northern Florida that serves an 18-county region.

Tallahassee Memorial is the only level two trauma center in the region and is constantly operating at a high capacity with many full beds and an incredibly busy emergency room. Through telehealth, the hospital implemented remote medical services primarily focused on transitional care.

The program has been successful in lowering readmission rates and caring for patients without needing them to come to the hospital. Further, it increased the number of patients the hospital was able to care for on a yearly basis, improving patient satisfaction and engagement.

“Our area has many geographic challenges since Tallahassee is located in Leon County, which is surrounded by rural communities, many of which have very limited health resources and no public transportation,” said Lauren Faison, director of regional development, population health and telemedicine at Tallahassee Memorial. “Many of our patients must travel one to two hours to Tallahassee to access care and often lack the resources to do so.”

"Florida lacks comprehensive telemedicine legislation [so] Tallahassee Memorial uses telemedicine primarily as a transitional care tool that significantly improves cost avoidance efforts."

Lauren Faison, Tallahassee Memorial

So, instead of receiving the medical care they need, these patients simply forego it, she added.

“[The Vidyo platform] works on any mobile device or computer and only requires a camera, speakers and an Internet connection,” said Faison. “This was key for us because we could implement telemedicine on existing equipment that the medical providers, their staff and our patients were already comfortable with.”

Providers can invite patients to join a telemedicine call, sent through the platform to a patient’s phone or computer via text message or email. The user interface is intuitive, Faison said, which makes it very easy to use.

Telemedicine technology proliferates the healthcare industry. Among the many vendors of telehealth tech are American Well, Avizia, InTouch Health, MDLive, SnapMD, Teladoc, TeleHealth Services and Tellus.

“Unlike many other states, Florida lacks comprehensive telemedicine legislation and currently there is very little reimbursement for services and no parity laws,” she explained. “Tallahassee Memorial uses telemedicine primarily as a transitional care tool that significantly improves cost avoidance efforts.”

“Because it is so easy to implement technically, and so intuitive to use, we are able to perform post-surgical follow-up appointments and post-acute visits via telemedicine,” she added.

This, in turn, allows the hospital to improve access to post-acute care and reduce unnecessary visits to the emergency room and readmissions to the hospital, she added.

“For example, patients who have had a hip or knee replacement receive post-surgical consults through telemedicine rather than having to travel to see their surgeon, or missing critical appointments altogether due to transportation issues,” she said.

It also eliminates, reduces unnecessary transportation to the hospital, Faison explained. For example, if a patient has a procedure and is moved to a rehab facility, the doctors perform their follow ups and monitor progress via telemedicine services at the patient’s bedside in the clinic.

“This reduces transportation costs and avoids safety risks of loading patients into a shuttle to drive them across the street and back for their check-ups,” Faison said. “A clinic nurse simply brings an iPad to the patient’s bedside and their doctor conducts the follow up without any need for any transportation to the hospital.”

They’ve also lowered readmission rates with high-risk patients including congestive heart failure patients, patients with COPD and so forth.

“Generally, these patients have been hospitalized and require follow up appointments to ensure the healing process is moving along properly; however, they often cannot get to their follow-up appointment,” Faison said. “This is especially true for those that live in rural communities, who cannot feasibly make a return trip to the hospital following their procedures.”

For these patients, a consult through telemedicine allows the transitional care team to maintain visibility into their healing process and ensure they understand post discharge instructions and are taking medications correctly, she added. Hospital staff also are able to make sure patients are following the proper steps to keep from falling back into a situation where they need to be readmitted.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com