Can Telehealth Reduce Costs in the Ortho Practice?

Posted by Michael Greiwe, MD | May 7, 2018 |
Michael Greiwe, MD

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Just like the old “joke” about death and taxes, there are two things we know for certain in the healthcare field:

  • The costs of providing care will increase.
  • Reimbursement will decline.

It’s true that the competitive market is constantly changing, the needs of patients are evolving, and the techniques we use shift steadily – but these two truisms haven’t.

The other big change that doctors in any specialty have been dealing with is the evolution of technology in our practice. Technology has moved from a back office function to the forefront of medicine, changing everything from how we capture patient data, to submission of payer claims, and even to how our patients register their presence in our waiting rooms.

Usually, when we talk about tech in medicine dollar signs begin to flash in the eyes of any independent practice doctor. But there is one technology that not only pays for itself, it has actually been shown to reduce practice costs and generate new revenue.

Telemedicine is here and the statistics show that it reduces the financial burden of orthopedic practices while improving care delivery.

Statistics Show Telehealth Cuts Care Delivery Costs

The American Hospital Association (AHA) spelled it out two years ago, stating, “Telehealth is increasingly viewed as a cost-effective method to deliver patient care and expand access.”

The latter part of that statement is easily proven true; the Internet has given us access to just about anything we want – including doctors on demand. Telemedicine is a technology rooted in our digital culture. It was designed to bring the physician to the patient wherever they may be.

Telehealth programs can bring physicians to rural areas where the shortage of providers is acute. Telehealth can also increase the volume of patients seen each day, allowing remote treatments at times when it is more convenient for our customers. This has been shown to reduce visits to the ER, particularly at nights and on the weekends. For hospitals faced with readmissions penalties, telehealth has become increasingly beneficial.

In fact, we believe telehealth has put the patient back at the center of care delivery, with applications for the technology becoming a standard part of every health system in the nation.

But what studies exist showing telehealth reduces patient care costs? Here are a few:

  • The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) was an early adopter of telehealth in the 1990s. The AHA reports they’ve used the application to serve more than 150,000 people since 2012. The cost to implement the service was $1,600 per patient annually, compared to $13,000 per patient for home care and more than $77,000 per patient for nursing home treatment. Data from the VHA shows more than $1 billion saved over the past six years.
  • Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland uses telehealth to provide at-home care for elderly and chronically ill patients with a 32% reduction in the cost of care over traditional visits.
  • Mercy Health in St. Louis has found telehealth to be so successful, they launched the first hospital without beds, a care modality devoted exclusively to virtual treatment.

While these statistics seem to prove the point that telehealth makes sense from a cost reduction standpoint in a hospital or large delivery network, what about the independent orthopedic specialty practice in an urban or rural community?

Telehealth in Orthopedics – Smart for Cost-Cutting?

A recent article in Orthopedics Today chronicles how telehealth applications are expanding in the specialty practice. One surgeon discussed how telehealth technology allowed his practice to eliminate home PT and VNS (visiting nurse service) for 90% of his hip patients. The cost savings has been around $4,000 per operation or a 15 to 20% savings on bundled payments per episode. Dr. Davidovitch was quoted in the article saying, “Postoperative follow-up visits are minimized due to the increased communication opportunities with the patient. Unnecessary visits to emergency rooms are avoided.”

The article also pointed out that the cost-savings are actually a two-way street; patients also benefit from telehealth technology. From driving to the appointment and parking to time spent away from work, remote appointments are convenient and cost-effective for patients who are both time-pressed and cash-strapped.

Another 2018 study tracked how telehealth is being used to treat sports-related orthopedic injuries in pediatric patients. The data showed that, on average, patient travel costs were reduced by 85 miles and travel costs by $50 per patient visit. Further, physician labor costs were cut by $24 per patient per visit. One doctor suggested that telehealth platforms are “playing a vital role for orthopedic physicians dealing with crowded clinics and busy patients.” All of the patients in the study were seen in person initially and then eventually switched to telemedicine for follow-up treatment.

Telehealth and Your Practice

When telehealth applications are discussed, most independent practices believe they do not have the financial or staffing resources to purchase and then train staff and clients on these useful but possibly out-of-reach resources.

OrthoLive was created to provide these clinical providers a means to leverage the same technologies used by large hospital systems in a more cost-effective software-as-a-service subscription package. Our services offer all of the same benefits of telehealth that your competitors in hospital-owned specialty practices are already taking advantage of, including:

  • Improving patient access to clinical care. An executive from Children’s Health of Dallas stated, “Technology is one of the easiest ways to reach our patients.”
  • Reduced overhead costs.
  • Less patient wait time.
  • Reduction in no-shows. Children’s Hospital & Medical Center of Omaha showed a 50% decrease in follow-up no-shows by using telehealth services.
  • Improved patient satisfaction scores. A study cited in the Journal of General Internal Medicine revealed that “Patients reported high satisfaction with their telehealth experience.”
  • Increasing the volume of patients.
  • Increasing the bottom line.

Telehealth is a proven technology that has been evolving since the 1950s. Today, it allows clinical providers to work smarter while providing expert patient care. With declining reimbursement and increasing costs, telemedicine is the answer for independent orthopedic practices seeking better models to streamline efficiencies.

The OrthoLive team is standing by to help your practice improve. To schedule a demo, contact us today.

Topics: About Telemedicine, "telehealth", "reimbursement"