Years from now, a Google search of February 2020 will likely bring up more articles with the keywords “coronavirus” over any other type of news. But behind the headlines, telemedicine continued to make it’s way steadily into the mainstream. Here’s what happened in the telehealth industry last month.
New Study Shows Two-Thirds of the Nation’s Caregivers Using Telehealth
Oregon’s Cambia Health Solutions released a study in February called “Wired for Care The New Face of Caregiving in America.” Today, 100 million people or 45% of the population in the U.S. are caring for a loved one. Whether an elderly parent or a special needs child, these caregivers are often hard-pressed to meet the demands of work, home life, and caregiving. The study noted these caregivers often have little training or additional help to ease their burden.
However many of these caregivers have an unexpected ally in their employer. The study found more than 60% of employers say they would like to be able to offer their employees access to digital health tools like telemedicine to help improve the lives of caregivers and their loved ones. The employers correlated these tools with increased workplace productivity and satisfaction while also reducing healthcare costs.
The report stated, “Employers have the opportunity to support their employees and positively impact their business by evaluating tools and services delivering leading edge technology and personalized support—especially when it comes to caregivers.”
Providence Launches Telehealth to Reduce Clinician Burnout
In Washington, the Providence Health System announced last month a rollout of their new Telebehavioral Health Concierge program. The system, with 51-hospitals in seven states, now offers telemedicine to more than 40,000 employees.
The launch couldn’t come at a better time. Medscape’s National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report earlier this year had alarming numbers; 44% of physicians say they are burned out. Providence launched a pilot telemedicine program prior to the launch and recorded more than 11,100 appointments.
Providence plans to expand the program gradually to Alaska, California, Montana, Texas, and a few other states by the end of 2020.
Virginia Children’s Hospital Expands Remote Patient Monitoring
On the other side of the country from Providence Health System, Children’s Hospital of Richmond announced expansion of their remote patient monitoring program. The healthcare provider had published the results of their pilot program in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery showing telehealth had resulted in zero re-hospitalizations, no additional clinical visits, and even prevented two probable ED visits.
The remote patient monitoring program was also cited as allowing two patient discharges 12 to 24-hours sooner than the normal care routine. Of the patients and their parents in the program, 92% reported a level of comfort with the technology and the services provided by clinical teams.
The hospital noted that patients and their families often travel five-hours or more to reach the facility. Because compliance is so critical for these surgical patients, excessive travel is a red flag that could compromise care. But the CMO of the health system stated, “This telemedicine technology allows us to review their meds, discuss nutrition, view their incision site and discuss next steps—all while the patient is comfortable at home.”
CMS Proposes Medicare Advantage Telehealth Coverage for Kidney Care
CMS has proposed to offer a telemedicine option for Medicare Advantage customers with end-stage renal disease. The ruling was part of a Presidential executive order designed to improve care delivery to people living with end-stage renal disease and provider reimbursement.
The effort was widely seen as the possible impetus toward home-based dialysis programs that use remote patient monitoring to improve care. The rule could also have a positive impact on transplant programs using telehealth to improve organ procurement programs and post-op recovery.
The ruling affects about 15% of the U.S. population, or 30 million Americans, according to mHealthIntelligence. Within this population, more than 660,000 people suffer from kidney failure and nearly 470,000 are on dialysis. Another 193,000 are a kidney transplant patient.
The National Kidney Foundation says that telehealth offers a strong alternative to in-person care. Clinical teams can remotely monitor blood pressure or vital signs as well as answering questions about medication or general care.
Texas A&M Testing mHealth to Reduce College Student Stress
Also in February, Texas A&M University researchers announced a pilot project featuring an mHealth wearable for students to detect when they’re experiencing stress and help them connect with resources.
The wearable app was developed by A&M’s Department of Industrial and System Engineering and draws data from sensors on the student’s smartwatch. The software is vendor-neutral and can pair with a number of off-the-shelf wearable devices.
The application uses AI to detect stress or anxiety in the end-user. The goal is to provide college students with access to as-needed on-demand digital health and therapeutic resources.
Mental health issues in college students can affect their concentration, motivation, social interactions, and physical health. These students often lack access to resources or are afraid or reluctant to seek help.
University searchers report that, as mHealth technology becomes more widespread, app designers can integrate with other devices such as smartglasses, earbuds, or sensor-embedded clothing to improve health.
West Virginia Blue Cross Blue Shield Launches mHealth
Last month, Highmark West Virginia, which serves more than 325,000 people, launched a new digital health service offering medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to treat opioid use disorder.
MAT is generally considered the best practice for opioid use disorder. However, treatment is difficult to find in rural West Virginia. The executive leadership of the payer network stated, “Through this program, we will be able to partner with clinicians so that our members receive the kind of comprehensive, accessible opioid use disorder treatment that puts them on a path to long-term recovery.”
Substance abuse continues to be a significant problem around the country. Telemedicine can bring together clinicians with rural residents to improve their health outcomes. Highmark is expected to expand these programs to include online educational programs and advocacy tools.
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