Telemedicine Fosters ACO Readiness

Author: Joe Peterson, M.D.

In every service area there are new incentives for large and small hospitals—plus outpatient facilities, home health agencies and community practices—to work in greater harmony than ever before. Some of those incentives are based on the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) paradigm, which is steadily gaining ground as a collaborative, patient-centered standard of care.

The ACO model is intently focused on collaboration to improve patient outcomes, and telemedicine is already playing a key role in the transition. Telemedicine lets large hospitals begin building relationships with smaller hospitals and health organizations in the community, and it can dramatically improve outcomes—from initial diagnosis to long-range results.

Take, for example, the treatment of strokes. Here’s a hypothetical scenario that illustrates how telemedicine can build ACO-style relationships:

A patient goes to the emergency room at Northern Hospital of Surry County or Davis Regional Medical Center in North Carolina suffering stroke-like symptoms. The small community hospital doesn’t have a staff neurologist, but it can rapidly set up a telemedicine consultation with a top neurologist from SOC, obtain expert diagnosis and treat the patient quickly with the clot-busting drug tPA if needed or if necessary, send the patient for a higher level of care and possible intervention at Forsyth Medical Center.

To use a well-worn phrase, it’s a classic win/win/win scenario for both the smaller community hospital, the medical center and the patient. It’s a matter of leveraging telemedicine to provide clinical expertise to smaller facilities, ensuring that each part of an ACO is able to offer patients the optimum care available.

The benefits are even greater when telemedicine is combined with EHR technology. In most healthcare settings today, stroke therapists don’t communicate well with each other. The hospital therapist’s clinical notes are rarely shared with the home health staff. And when a stroke patient has recovered enough to go to an outpatient facility, therapists there make a brand-new assessment. Yet each provider at every stage is required to have the neurologist’s approval for a plan of care. And in the ACO model, they’re all accountable for the desired patient outcome.

Clearly, telemedicine can foster the teamwork needed for success as ACOs coalesce in each community. Many large hospitals are looking for a way to “break the ice” with potential ACO partners in their areas—and telemedicine provides the perfect entrée. By putting these partnerships in place now, hospitals both large and small will soon enjoy the benefits: greater quality of care and the financial results that accompany it.