In many parts of the country, the first autumn leaves began to fall last month. September brought the changing of the seasons but it also brought a few innovations to the telehealth industry. Some of the largest health systems in the nation continued to publish data showing the positive results gained from providing patients with telehealth technology. Two studies in particular showed the widespread benefit for our nation’s vulnerable veteran population. Both continued to lay the groundwork benefits of telehealth for improved access, lowered costs, and higher healthcare outcomes. In the private sector last month, SSM Health reported that asynchronous telemedicine saved the system 18-minutes per patient encounter.
Two Studies Showed Positive Telehealth Results at the VA
“Telehealth is a cornerstone of enhanced access for Veterans and is associated with improved disease control, quality of life, and patient satisfaction across a range of conditions.”
JAMIA Open Study
Last month two separate peer review studies proved again that the VA’s long history with telehealth continues to benefit both the health system and the veterans they serve. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the nation’s largest integrated health system, first adopted telehealth in 2013 and they have continued to expand services by using these tools. Studies documenting the success of these programs came regularly over the years. Last month JAMIA Open published a year long study of the VA’s use of tablets to provide telemedicine visits to their patients.
The study, titled “Making connections: a nationwide implementation of video telehealth tablets to access barriers in veterans,” looked at 86 VA facilities across 18 geographic regions. The vets studied had an average age of 56 years old. The VA distributed tablets to 6,745 of these patients living in rural areas and the study attempted to quantify usage rates and the overall value of the telemedicine services offered via these devices.
The system purchased tablets that had built-in WiFi or 4G mobile data connectivity and pre-paid access to a national wireless network. Of the 5,000 tablets, 3,500 had just video communication while the remainder could connect to additional peripheral devices like a BP monitor, weight scale, or pulse oximeter. The devices were encrypted and HIPAA compliant. Each device was also pre-loaded with a customized telemedicine application.
After distribution, patients were scheduled for clinical video home visits. They received training on how to use the tool. The tablets were used for almost any type of care, including:
- Mental health counseling;
- Medication management;
- Primary care;
- Palliative care;
- Specialty care;
- And rehabilitation and physical therapy.
The results of the study included both quantitative and qualitative data on adoption and the perceived effectiveness of the telehealth initiative. The data showed:
- 81% of patients used their tablet during the evaluation period of the study.
- 30% utilized the tablet more than five times.
- Telehealth was used most frequently for mental health care (54%), spinal cord rehabilitation (15%), primary care (7%), physical therapy (7%), and palliative care (2%).
- Nearly 90% of those surveyed said the initiative was a success.
The study concluded:
"VA’s implementation of video telehealth tablets appears to have successfully reached many patients in the target population, including those in rural and geographically isolated locations and individuals with complex medical and mental health needs."
But the VA study published in JAMIA Open was one of two that came out last month. The second study was released by Psychiatric Services and sought to quantify both the front and back end of this telehealth imitative. Specifically, it looked not just at how distributing telemedicine tablets affected patients, but how the effort improved the overall efficiency of the VA system.
SSM Health Improves Efficiency with Telemedicine
A third significant study was released in September, this time from the public side of healthcare delivery. SSM Health, an integrated system offering services in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin, announced their asynchronous telemedicine initiative saved the system 18-minutes per encounter over the traditional visit.
Asynchronous telemedicine, or store-and-forward technology, avoids live video, and instead, uses pre-recorded video or digital images on the Internet to transmit data. For just $25 per encounter, patients were able to receive treatment from a doctor or midlevel provider. The technology integrated with the system’s Epic EMR, so patient data was easily captured between systems.
SSM reported some of the key metrics on patient utilization and provider efficiency in Healthcare IT News. Some of the early findings included:
- The system is already averaging 600 patient visits per month. They expect this number to increase quickly as cold and flu season approaches.
- Provider efficiency has increased, with an average provider work time of one minute and 50 seconds for an asynchronous online interview visit. This is a huge cost saving over traditional visits, which average between 15 and 20 minutes each. The system noted telemedicine has allowed them to see more patients while still scoring high on satisfaction metrics.
- SSM says their Net Promoter Score is now 53, which is well above average. They stated, “This tells us that patients are extremely happy with the experience of using our virtual care solution.”
SSM Health noted that, while the service is just a few months old, they will continue to monitor these metrics diligently to ensure both the efficiency of the system and the quality of care remain high.
Significance of The Studies
For veterans, additional geographic and travel barriers can limit access to needed services. Healthcare IT News reports this is a significant barrier for the nearly nine million enrolled patients receiving VA care—especially for the one-third living in rural areas.
The potential benefit of this study for the rest of the U.S. patient population could be significant. Healthcare IT News reports the general expansion of telemedicine services has expanded since 2017. These studies continue to reinforce prior data that shows the efficacy of telemedicine technology to improve the business of care.
Interested in Telehealth?
OrthoLive offers orthopedic practices a chance to launch the same telehealth services found in large healthcare systems like the VA and SSM. Our fully HIPAA-compliant, customizable, and affordable telehealth application is in use around the country. We offer a variety of options for use of telemedicine, from our telehealth virtual visit for the orthopedic practice to an on-call network of providers to respond to worker’s compensation incidents on the job. Contact our team to discuss your options today.