Telehealth, the use of electronic and telecommunications technology to deliver healthcare at a distance, is gaining momentum across the nation. Eighty four percent of Americans report they would use video or online health services if available, but only one-third of hospitals and 45% of outpatient facilities offer it. Telehealth can be a key tool to improve employees’ health across all industries, particularly in rural and underserved locations where available medical services are few.
The use of telecommunications and electronic technologies to deliver care outside of traditional healthcare facilities means it’s easier, faster and more affordable for everyone – employers and employees – to receive care. This translates to healthier, happier employees who are more present and productive at work.
Healthcare providers face many challenges: a severe shortage of qualified workers, an aging population dealing with complex health issues and the lack of funding, to name a few. The use of technology to ‘bridge the gap’ through remote access to physicians and medical staff allows healthcare providers to do more with limited resources.
Loretto debuted telemedicine services in its Restorative Care Unit in 2018 and expanded remote patient monitoring services to the PACE-CNY program in 2019. To date, feedback from PACE and Loretto’s staff have been overwhelmingly positive – staff were able to provide more care to residents without sacrificing the quality of their outcomes and experiences. PACE participants also appreciate the easy access to medical professionals 24/7.
The availability of anytime/anywhere healthcare gave providers, employees and those we serve peace of mind.
Loretto saw that offering telemedicine services was not just a solution for staffing shortages, but it is a significant opportunity for strategic business growth and operational efficiencies. For this reason, Loretto expanded its use of remote patient monitoring to include two more locations: the Cunningham skilled nursing program and Fahey rehabilitation buildings on Loretto’s main campus.
Aside from easing the pressure of clinical workforce shortages we’re facing in the United States, telehealth lowers the cost of care by reducing unnecessary hospital and emergency room visits. The American Medical Association reports that over 70% of doctor’s visits can be done over the phone and 50% of ER visits are actually non-emergencies that could be manged by video or online telehealth solutions.
The rising costs of healthcare are the focus of employers who provide health insurance, and employees who pay for portions of insurance and other medical expenses. If there’s a way we can start to regain control of these costs, it will benefit everyone in our community and in our country.
Telehealth can work two ways: to track and prevent issues, or to provide immediate access to a professional healthcare provider for non-emergent issues. The use of remote patient monitoring can reduce hospital visits by closely tracking a patient’s vital signs and detecting early indicators of significant health issues. When potential health risks are identified and addressed early, unnecessary hospital visits are avoided. Telemedicine, or the use of electronic and telecommunications like video conferences, allows patients to access care 24/7.
One of our new telemedicine programs has already seen a 67% reduction in hospitalization in 2019 (compared to 2018), saving thousands of dollars in medical expenses. The new technology has also shown that a third of the calls to medical professionals were made after hours on weekdays and another third were made on weekends – times when the only other options for medical care are urgent care or an emergency department.
For insurers, this means fewer and/or lower claim costs. For employers, this (hopefully) means lower insurance plan premiums. For our residents and for patients across the country, this means fewer out-of-pocket expenses. It’s certainly a win-win-win scenario.
As we forge a new path in the future of healthcare, I believe telehealth technologies will play a key role in keeping the overall cost of healthcare down. The recent proposed federal and state budget cuts in Medicare and Medicaid have added a new layer of challenges to an already strained healthcare system.
Our society is aging at a rapid pace, and this population faces even more health issues than previous generations because people are living longer lives and staying in their homes longer. This means they are coming to Loretto older, sicker, frailer, and with more complex health conditions.
Likewise, with increasing healthcare costs, fewer people are seeking the treatment they need – at any stage in life – because they fear the bills they will receive following a visit to their doctor. And I don’t need to tell you the trickle-down effect that has on work performance or the overall well-being of our community. So, we must find ways to provide quality care while containing costs across the healthcare continuum.
As local business leaders and decision makers, we need to embrace technology and healthcare delivery system innovations, and further explore how technology can benefit our businesses and our community. Loretto will continue to innovate and deliver high quality care and diversify our programs to keep up with the ever-changing demands of our aging population. I welcome a discussion on these important topics with other leaders.
Dr. Kimberly Townsend is President and CEO, Loretto Management Corporation, and author of “Lifecircle Leadership: How Exceptional People Make Every Day Extraordinary.”