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Affordable Care Act Transitions and the Emergence of Telehealth

With the U.S. spending approximately $2.7 trillion on healthcare annually, cutting costs is a priority. After all, it’s been estimated by The Institute for Health Care Improvement that 30-50% of that money spent is wasteful: caused by inefficiency, lack of proactivity, and poor communication. In fact, it’s estimated that the cost of Medicare amounts to more than $17 million each year as a result of hospital readmissions, and President Obama’s Affordable Care Act aims to address this issue through a series of mandates that will change the way our country receives healthcare. One of the major initiatives introduced by the President’s healthcare law in 2010 is the Accountable Care Model, which moves healthcare away from a fee-for-service model and promotes a system that focuses on preventative care and facilitates the overall wellness of patients. To help implement this new healthcare model, in October 2013, the federal government will begin penalizing hospitals for persistent cases of readmission by cutting their Medicare reimbursements. Though the penalties will only target readmissions for heart failure, heart attack, and pneumonia, the government is expected to extend the penalties to additional conditions in 2015.

For hospitals looking for a way to transition into the ACA’s Accountable Care Model and minimize their penalties for rehospitalizations, telehealth may prove to be 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 early; before it turns into something more serious that the patient would need to be rehospitalized for. Technologies that fall under telehealth include, but go beyond, basic video-chatting consultation capabilities, and range from software and equipment that keep track of a patient’s vitals and electronically submit the recorded information to the healthcare provider, to pills with microchips that confirm whether or not the patient is taking their medicine correctly.

For instance, Bosch Healthcare’s T400 Telehealth System allows discharged patients with pulmonary disease, heart failure, and diabetes to openly communicate with their healthcare provider by electronically submitting their vitals on a daily basis. Adopting technology similar to the T400 will allow medical professionals to monitor patients in a more consistent manner and maximize follow-up care, which can help greatly reduce the costs associated with hospital readmissions.

Through telehealth, the risk of miscommunication between patient and doctor is also greatly reduced. For example, a main source of healthcare expenses comes from the improper use of medication. Technology that makes it easier for patients to contact their physicians and allows medical professionals to send in-depth details pertaining to dosages and possible side effects directly to their patients’ home computers may greatly reduce adverse health effects and rehospitalizations associated with new prescriptions. Most facilities will find it more cost-effective to monitor a patient’s medicinal intake on a daily basis, and reduce or change their drug regimen, than to treat them in the hospital from an allergic reaction to the drug.

Telehealth is also considered an important subset of electronic health records (EHR), 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 record or electronic medical records. However, only 40% of these physicians reported that their EHR/EMR systems met the criteria for a basic system. With this in mind, as 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, now is the perfect time to invest in telehealth. To find out if you qualify for any EHR incentive programs, please visit the following site:

http://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and Guidance/Legislation/EHRIncentivePrograms/index.html?redirect=/EHRIncentivePrograms/