Funding Shortfall Short-Circuits Telehealth Use

Thursday, September 19th, 2013
This post was written by Patricia Donovan

Despite numerous claims that telehealth boosts healthcare’s efficiency and reach, significant financial hurdles still remain, with cost still the most formidable barrier to implementation for more than a quarter of respondents to the 2013 Telehealth and Telemecine survey.

Reimbursement for these technologies remains an issue for one-fifth of the population surveyed for the third annual telehealth assessment.

Even so, where technologies such as videoconferencing for remote diagnostics are deployed, adopters report impressive gains in medication adherence and care of remote and rural patients, as well as a decrease in health complications. Take, for example, the numerous initiatives in the area of remote monitoring, the top clinical telehealth application reported by this year’s respondents. More than half — 57 percent — monitor patients or members remotely; fully 100 percent of those employing this technology track vital signs and weight in monitored individuals, two critical red flags in treatment of individuals with chronic illness.

Active users of telehealth and telemedicine also experience fewer hospitalizations, hospital readmissions, emergency room visits and bed days within served populations, respondents reported. More studies are needed to tie telehealth and telemedicine interventions to these metrics, as researchers at UC Davis Children’s Hospital did recently. They found that telemedicine consultations with pediatric critical-care medicine physicians significantly improved the quality of care for seriously ill and injured children treated in remote rural ERs, where pediatricians and pediatric specialists are scarce.

The study also found that rural ER physicians are more likely to adjust their pediatric patients’ diagnoses and course of treatment after a live, interactive videoconference with a specialist. Parents’ satisfaction and perception of the quality of their child’s care also are significantly improved when consultations are provided using telemedicine, rather than telephone, and aid ER treatment, the study found.

In a related development, UC Davis researchers have been awarded a $2.5 million grant to study telepsychiatry by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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