Telestroke proves itself a money saver

The savings, researchers say, are attributed to reduced resource utilization.
By Erin McCann
11:12 AM
Telemedicine programs may help extend higher quality care to patients living in more rural areas, but the cost to implement and maintain the technology and services is also a serious consideration. So seeing financial savings, then, from telehealth patient treatment is important to help offset those expenses. According to a new study by Mayo Clinic researchers, a telestroke program may just have done that. 
Stroke patients living in rural areas who receive care via a telestroke network see, on average, nearly $1,500 in lower costs over their lifetime compared to stroke patients who do not receive telestroke care, researchers found. The savings are primarily attributed to reduced resource utilization, including nursing home care and inpatient rehabilitation.
Researchers also estimate that, compared with no network, a modeled telestroke system consisting of a single hub and seven spoke hospitals may result in the appropriate use of more clot-busting drugs, more catheter based interventional procedures and other stroke therapies, with more stroke patients discharged home independently. Despite the considerable upfront and maintenance expenses, the entire network of hospitals realizes a greater total cost savings, officials say. 
"This study shows that a hub-and-spoke telestroke network is not only cost-effective from the societal perspective, but it's cost-saving," said neurologist Bart Demaerschalk, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic Telestroke Program, and lead investigator of the study, in a press statement. "We can assess medical services, like telemedicine, in terms of the net costs to society for each year of life gained."
Using a telemedicine robot to deliver stroke care, officials say, allows a stroke patient to be examined in real-time by a neurology specialist elsewhere via computer with a ER physician at another site which may not have neurology specialists, typically in rural locations. 
"The results serve to inform government organizations, insurers, healthcare institutions, practitioners, patients and the general public that an upfront investment in telemedicine and stroke network personnel can be justified in our health system," added Demaerschalk.
Today, there are some 10 million Americans using telemedicine, according to American Telemedicine Association's CEO Jonathan Linkous. 
"There's a huge change in the number of people that are using telemedicine," Linkous told Healthcare IT News, and that can be attributed to several different factors. 
One of the biggest, he said, that is payers are now covering the cost. "Ten years ago, almost no one was paying for telemedicine."