In April, telehealth funding topped the news, with several large healthcare providers receiving substantial funding to expand telemedicine programs. Another large university system released a new study showing a reduction in hospital readmissions for COPD patients by using telehealth. All of this, plus the announcement of a new national telehealth research network and new legislation expanding state payer coverage for telemedicine.
Here’s what happened in the telehealth industry in April 2019.
UAB Uses Telehealth for COPD Patients
In April, researchers at the University of Alabama (UAB) at Birmingham released findings of their study showing telemedicine reduces hospital readmissions in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients. The research was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Alabama has the highest rate of COPD patients in the nation. COPD includes a number of respiratory-inhibiting diseases, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema as well as other chronic breathing problems. The disease negatively affects the quality of life in patients, especially in later stages, as lung function declines.
The UAB study was launched in 2015 and sought to provide video virtual care to post-admission COPD patients. Patients received at-home pulmonary rehabilitation after their discharge from the hospital for an acute incidence of COPD. Virtual treatment was provided in a 12-week 36-session pulmonary rehabilitation program. The program included breathing, stretching, and aerobic exercise.
The study stated, “Participating in an exercise program soon after hospitalization for an acute exacerbation of COPD is associated with a substantially lower readmission rate within 30-days of discharge.” Not only were hospital readmissions reduced in these patients, but the research also showed that they were reduced by roughly 200% when readmissions dropped from 18.1% to 6.2% on average.
mHealth Intelligence reported on the study last month and concluded:
The study adds to the growing body of evidence that telemedicine platforms, offering everything from physical rehabilitation to remote patient monitoring services, can help providers improve post-discharge care management. These platforms allow providers to monitor their patients more closely, either at a clinic or in the patient’s home, reducing the chances of an adverse health issue that would lead to a rehospitalization.
MUSC Creates National Pediatric Telehealth Research Network
The Medical University of South Carolina won a $3.6 million federal telehealth grant last month. Their goal is to create a national database for pediatric telehealth best practices and research.
- Focus on replicating care over distance.
- Achieve efficiencies for care delivery by assessing patient, payer, clinician, and health system impact.
- Foster collaboration between providers and document the impact on interdisciplinary care.
- Understand the barriers to care in rural settings and how telehealth improves access.
- Improve collaboration between competing health systems.
- Use evidence-based outcomes to identify the need for telehealth in targeted populations.
- Demonstrate financial accountability and efficiency.
- Facilitate innovation and new ideas for serving underserved populations.
- Improve provider acceptance by normalizing the use of telehealth services.
The grant is earmarked to expand MUSC’s activities around remote monitoring for medically complex children. The organization already offers telemedicine in several service lines, including telestroke, tele-ICU, telemental health, for pediatric critical care cases, plus a telehealth network within schools and prisons.
The medical director for telehealth optimization at MUSC had this to say:
When you look at the healthcare landscape and the way telehealth could impact it — the greatest potential is in patients who have chronic illnesses and are heavy utilizers of healthcare services. To be able to reach into their homes and see them where they live could potentially have a huge impact on their lives and help them in the management of their condition, reduce their utilization of emergency room services, and really impact how they manage their disease.
MUSC is already a Telehealth Center of Excellence, one of two in the entire nation. These centers have been authorized and funded by the federal government, who is seeking to expand more of these organizations in the near future.
New Arizona Law Expands Coverage for the Service
Telehealth made the news in Arizona last month when the Governor signed SB 1089 into law. The law was unanimously approved by the Arizona Senate and had a near-unanimous vote from the House, going on to easy passage by the Governor.
The law will go into effect by 2021 and adds asynchronous (store-and-forward) telehealth and remote patient monitoring to the state’s connected care guidelines. The legislation also increases payer reimbursement for these services.
The need for telehealth is clear; a new report from the University of Arizona cited a clear shortage of primary care providers. It showed:
- The state is only meeting 41.7% of its primary care need.
- Arizona is the fourth fastest growing state in the nation.
- The state is 44th of 50 states in the number of active primary care providers.
- Arizona ranks 31st in total active physicians.
According to mHealth Intelligence, Arizona legislators recognize that telehealth can play a larger role in providing care to patients quickly.
Yale University Receives $5.5 Million to Study Telehealth
Also in April, the Yale University School of Medicine received a $5.5 million grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to use telehealth for care coordination in psychiatric and behavioral consults for pregnant women with substance use disorders. The project summary states, “The likelihood that a pregnant woman will struggle with an opioid use disorder has increased by more than 300% in the past 15-years.”
The project will seek to use telemedicine to improve care to rural populations. Specifically, the funds are earmarked to provide medication-assisted therapy (MAT) to pregnant women struggling with opioid use disorder in rural areas. Researchers anticipate enrolling up to 480 women from 12 obstetric centers. The study group will receive care via videoconference. The research seeks to determine, “whether there are differences between the two group in the likelihood that women will feel empowered to control their illness, partner with her doctors and nurses in making medical decisions, experience improvement in depression and anxiety, and feel able to fulfill her roles as mother, daughter, partner, etc.,” according to mHealth Intelligence.
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