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A Changing Landscape: the Affordable Care Act and New Opportunities in Telehealth

With the U.S. spending approximately $2.7 trillion on healthcare annually, cutting costs is a priority—and could lead to exciting new opportunities for healthcare professionals. President Obama’s Affordable Care Act aims to address cost issues through a series of mandates that will change the way our country receives healthcare, while simultaneously creating new careers in unexpected places. For instance, since the Obama administration will be levying fines on health care facilities that readmit patients for the same treatable conditions, hospitals are exploring avenues to increase efficiency and simultaneously cut costs by taking on a new type of staff—telehealth professionals.

Many hospitals looking to transition into the ACA’s Accountable Care Model and minimize their penalties for rehospitalizations are turning to telehealth as a pertinent solution. Telehealth employs the use of technology to allow patients, hospitals, and medical professionals to remain connected after the patient is discharged in order to better evaluate and manage care remotely. The goal is to monitor the patient closely, and catch and treat a health risk before it turns into something more serious that the patient would need to be rehospitalized for. As you might imagine, implementing telehealth requires hiring and training a new breed of hospital staff.

How do hospitals and patients benefit from telehealth technology? Through telehealth, the risk of miscommunication between patient and doctor is greatly reduced. For example, a main source of healthcare expenses comes from the improper use of medication. Telehealth technology makes it easy for hospitals to track the use and misuse of prescribed medications. Patients can easily contact their physicians through telehealth technology, and medical professionals can send in-depth details pertaining to dosages and possible side effects directly to their patients’ home computers. This may greatly reduce adverse health effects and rehospitalizations associated with new prescriptions.

As hospitals and other healthcare providers adopt more and more forms of telehealth technologies, a new generation of healthcare professionals has begun to emerge. Positions such as teleradiologists, telenurses, and telepharmacy staff are in high demand. From interpreting X-rays and CT scans to providing medical advice over the phone to reviewing prescription orders remotely, many of the daily tasks of medical professionals can be done off-site. These teleprofessionals make salaries comparable to their in-house counterparts, and in many cases can enjoy the flexibility of a work-from-home employee. Savvy job seekers take note: this new and exciting sub-industry is predicted to reach 1.8 million patients worldwide by 2017, and the time to get in on the ground floor is now.

Telehealth also provides opportunities for growth in home care scenarios. Many home care facilities are already using some form of telehealth technology, for example, telephone hotlines for patients receiving home care. This is expected to increase dramatically as older adults (the primary recipients of home care) learn more about how to use internet, video and email technology. Interactive webcam systems allow “on-call” nurses to demonstrate things that are difficult to explain in words alone, such as how to change a dressing or give an insulin injection. In the coming years, home care telehealth technology providers will need more nurses to speak with patients and provide medical advice as well as need more lab analysts to examine and interpret information from remote monitoring devices.

Electronic health records (EHR), the umbrella category that telehealth falls under, also provides opportunities for job seekers in the medical field. Electronic health records are another initiative included in the Affordable Care Act that aims to improve quality and lower costs by encouraging medical facilities to digitalize patient records. Since the first EHR regulation went into effect last October, it was reported by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 72% of office-based physicians (up from 48% in 2009) used electronic health records or electronic medical records. However, only 40% of these physicians reported that their EHR/EMR systems met the criteria for a basic system. These same physicians are in dire need of professionals with strong computer skills to spearhead the total shift from paper to electronic records. The U.S department of Health and Human Resources recently apportioned $18 million dollars of its budget to further encourage the use of Electronic Health Record Technology, making now a great time for professionals to shift their careers to EHR.

ADDITIONAL SOURCE:

http://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Legislation/EHRIncentivePrograms/