Earlier this month, HealthLeaders broke the news of the latest study showing telehealth can expand care while reducing costs. The study was only the latest in a growing body of evidence that shows one of the value propositions of telehealth is a cost reduction and simultaneous growth in patient access to needed care.
This time the news came out of Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, and it showed the startling quantifiable data that diverting patients from unnecessary ER visits through telehealth platforms save healthcare providers $1,500 per patient encounter.
Jefferson Health is an integrated academic system in Philadelphia with 14 hospitals, seven urgent care locations, 19 outpatient centers, 22 rehab providers, 25 imaging centers, and more, serving a diverse population across a multi-city geographic footprint. They offer 24/7 services via JeffConnect, an on-demand telehealth platform that uses “the latest video technology to deliver face-to-face care and consultation, without you having to come to Jefferson.”
The system implemented telehealth in 2015, to widespread media coverage of the program. They were in good company; today, 71% of healthcare providers use some form of digital telehealth tools to serve patients. But their use of these tools far exceeded their expectations in the area of improved access and reduced system costs.
Prior research had indicated that diverting patients from more costly services, such as the ER, saved health systems money. But telehealth has been shown to do more than cut costs, expanding access, improving patient outcomes, and much more.
Jefferson Health sought to quantify their own cost savings by collecting data from 650 patients who used the telemedicine platform. Their study validated past assumptions of telehealth cost savings, stating:
In our on-demand telemedicine program, we found the majority of health concerns could be resolved in a single consultation and new utilization was infrequent. Synchronous audio-vide telemedicine consults resulted in short-term cost savings by diverting patients from more expensive care settings.
Each JeffConnect was a flat $49 fee for their on-demand service. The highest amount of savings accrued from the diversion of patients from the system emergency room treatment facilities. The study noted that each time an ER visit was diverted; the system experienced cost savings ranging from a low of $309 to over $1,500. For other types of follow-up care, the cost savings was $114 less per visit. The study noted:
The net cost savings to the patient or payer per telemedicine visit compared of $19 to $121 represents a meaningful cost savings when compared with the $49 cost of an on-demand visit. The primary source of the generated savings is from avoidance of the emergency department, as this is by far the most expensive of the alternative care options provided.
Further, the study pointed out that many of these patients would have “done nothing” had the JeffConnect tool not been available. Ultimately, the assumption is that this would increase service utilization later on had the patient condition worsened. The study said:
A substantial shift would be necessary to outpace the savings from diversion. Conversely, this population of patients who would have done nothing may represent improved access and incorporation of patients into the healthcare system that might not have participated previously. This might actually prevent more costly care further down the line.
While the health system reports savings of up to $1,500 per patient encounter, this study did nothing to quantify the experiences of the patients themselves. Does telehealth improve the clinical visit for the patient as well as the providers serving them?
This information was captured in a prior study, released in 2018.
Patient Access and Time Savings at Jefferson Health via Telehealth
“These findings demonstrate that the majority of patients surveyed across a heterogeneous group of clinical scenarios felt they had received the same level of quality as they would have during on-site in-person visits.”
Patient and Health System Experience With Implementation of an Enterprise-Wide Telehealth Scheduled Video Visit Program: Mixed-Methods Study
JMIR Medical Informatics
A study published in JMIR Medical Informatics in 2018 also studied the patient encounter with JeffConnect. The goal of the study was to follow patients that used JeffConnect over 18-months to determine their experience with the service. The survey tools were aligned with the National Quality Forum initiative and sought to measure access, experience, and care effectiveness.
The system measured 764 survey participants aged 18 and older. These patients could be seen via telehealth in a variety of specialty settings, from family medicine, psychiatry, surgical subspecialties, ob/gyn, dermatology, and more. The study tracked data from 2015 to 2016. During the tracked time period, 3,018 telehealth visits were conducted.
Some of the findings included:
- The majority of patients seen (84%) had never experienced a telehealth visit prior to their JeffConnect experience.
- Of these patients, 86% agreed or strongly agreed that telehealth made it easier to receive care.
- Patients said they also saved time by using these tools, with nearly one-half responding that they reduced their time by one to three hours.
- Over 40% said they saved more than three hours of time.
- 91% of the patients surveyed reported satisfaction with their telehealth visit.
- Almost 91% said they’d use the tool again.
The study concluded:
Patients found use of scheduled video visits made it easier to get care and the majority perceived time saved, suggesting that the use of telehealth for scheduled visits can improve potential access to care across a range of clinical scenarios with favorable patient experiences.
While these results focused on a large urban healthcare system, the results have been validated across clinical care delivery mechanisms, from small clinics to rural health centers.
Telehealth is one tool for clinical providers to use when seeking a better bottom line for the health of their practice. Healthcare delivery is currently shifting to leverage these tools more frequently as a way to expanding a shrinking safety net at a time when healthcare costs are rapidly increasing. Telemedicine tools can improve access to care for patients struggling to travel long distances as well as decreasing costs for clinical providers struggling with declining reimbursement. The time for telehealth is now precisely because the benefits are so high for both providers and patients.
If you’re an orthopedic provider open to new models of care delivery, call OrthoLive today.