Acute Care Telemedicine: What Is It and Why Is It Necessary?
Remote healthcare has become a normal way of life for many Americans. With new offerings by insurance plans and employers, direct-to-consumer telemedicine continues to gain favor as a time-efficient and cost-effective alternative to a drive to the doctor’s office in situations such as primary care, urgent care or follow-up visits, and even the management of medications and chronic illness. Yet, even with the rapid rise in adoption of everyday tele-care, there’s another segment of real-time telemedicine that offers even greater returns to the overall continuum of healthcare: acute care telemedicine.
Acute care telemedicine supports a hospital or health system’s primary focus of improving patient outcomes. Much in the same way that direct-to-consumer telemedicine providers can guide care for a bothersome cough or a sick child in the middle of the night, acute care telemedicine can offer rapid access to critical or specialized care – improving quality of care across several key areas:
Telemedicine = On-demand Expertise for Acute Care
In a clinically-complex case such as a critically-ill stroke patient, telemedicine makes it possible to quickly connect a highly qualified, board-certified neurologist to any hospital in the country. Neurologists interact with patients via real-time video and audio, review and share images with onsite doctors, and help make risk-based decisions about patient care.
TeleNeurology Means Reduced Response Times
TeleNeurology providers can be on camera with patients quickly – usually in minutes. Even if a hospital has a specialist on staff, it may take a while to get them in front of the patient, especially if it is a large hospital or campus. If the specialist is in an office setting, or is at home, critical time may be lost while they travel to the patient. Delays in care affect patient outcomes.
Telemedicine Means Improved Volume and Coverage
Telemedicine also enables load balancing in busy departments, improving coverage due to fluctuating patient volume and need. Case in point: the number of behavioral health emergency department visits continues to rise, and patients are required to sit and wait for a board-certified psychiatrist to see them before being cleared for admittance or discharge. Many providers are scrambling to find more cost-effective, timely treatments for mental health and substance abuse patients. In this scenario, a suitable telePsychiatry program can rapidly lighten the behavioral health load, addressing coverage shortages and imbalances.
Lowered Costs & Increased Revenue with Telemedicine
There are many ways effective implementation of telemedicine can lower costs and improve revenue. Consider the monetary implications of the above examples:
- If a patient comes in to a hospital system that doesn’t have a neurologist or stroke care, but does have access to a teleNeurologist, the hospital may be able to treat the patient locally and avoid transferring them to another facility. Result: better outcomes (every minute counts in stroke care) and retention of revenue.
- If a mental health or substance abuse patient can see a telePsychiatrist within hours (instead of days for an in-person consult in some cases), the hospital can make appropriate discharge and admission decisions faster. Result: better outcomes (ensuring that the most vulnerable patients are treated quickly) and increase in revenue from other patients who aren’t turned away from an overcrowded emergency department.
Another way hospitals can lower costs is by decreasing their reliance on locum tenens clinicians. These temporary employees are a much more expensive way to fill gaps in specialty care than telemedicine in most cases.
Telemedicine Improves Patient Outcomes
By its very nature, telemedicine can produce actionable data for continued optimization of clinical outcomes and more consistent performance. With insights into various clinical programs that telemedicine can provide, a hospital system can conduct peer-to-peer performance comparisons regionally, nationally, or within networks. An organization can also compare the performance of its physicians among each other, segmenting how its tele-model compares to its on-premise model of care delivery.
The successful implementation of acute care telemedicine is as beneficial to the patient as it is to the provider. Allowing access to scarce specialty physicians while also managing provider workloads, optimizing care and improving hospital revenue add up to improved patient outcomes and a healthier hospital bottom line.
If you are interested in learning more about acute care telemedicine and how it helps our partner hospitals, watch our video at https://www.soctelemed.com/telemediq/