Posted on August 19, 2014
Did you see the recent Wall Street Journal article, " Rural Hospitals Feel Pinch --- Strapped Facilities Squeezed Further by Medicare Changes, Dwindling Subsidies"? If you didn't read it, the headline says it all.
What the article doesn't tell you is how to "pinch back." In other words, "How can your hospital succeed in spite of Medicare changes and decreased subsidies?" One solution is telemedicine.
Now hear me out … I know "telemedicine" has become a healthcare buzzword these days. But there's more to it than video conferencing with a specialist hundreds of miles away. I also know that a lot of rural hospitals are turning "telemed" into "teleprofit." That's not rhetoric. It's a fact.
I've worked closely with Donna Jennings, an expert in the field of telemedicine consulting, and we've learned quite a bit from each other. As vice president of Valis, Donna not only knows her stuff, she's been elbow-deep in setting up successful telemedicine programs across the country.
Based on our discussions, I can tell you unequivocally, that rural hospitals can benefit both clinically and financially from an effective telemedicine program. While I've seen evidence of this with my own clients and business partners, Donna shed some light on a few lesser-known facts that it's important for your hospital to know about.
For example, according to Donna, "Many hospitals don't know that they can bill - and get paid - for telemedicine services if the program is set up appropriately and is very tightly organized."
She also stressed that, "It's important for hospitals to realize that return on investment goes beyond the telemedicine consultation itself. It's also related to things like reduced readmissions and mortality rates and value-based care metrics, which hospitals now get paid on."
Telemedicine can provide a multitude of benefits to your hospital and patients. To help get your arms around them, I've broken the advantages into four distinct categories:
- Improved access to inpatient and outpatient care: Telemedicine allows your hospital to offer your patients high-quality and consistent specialty care that's close to home. And that care can be provided without the large investment of hiring full-time, on-site providers.
- Improved patient outcomes: Telemedicine gives your patients immediate access to the specialists they need so they receive the right care, right away. This has been shown to improve outcomes for inpatients. You know what that means for your hospital when you're paid on performance. Earlier specialist treatment can also result in lower costs. And telemedicine allows similar benefits to outpatients, improving care without the cost and inconvenience of travel.
- Improved hospital performance: Telemedicine can decrease lengths of stay, mortality rates and patient transfers to tertiary facilities as well as encourage appropriate admissions and discharge decisions. But that's not all. When patients have local access to the specialists they need, readmission rates and outmigration can be minimized, which can be a major coup for your hospital.
- Improved patient satisfaction: Telemedicine helps reduce travel time, wait time and related stress and uncertainty for patients needing specialty care. Inpatients also benefit from continued care by their own doctor who knows them best, with assistance from a well-trained telemedicine specialist. And a well-organized and clinically sound telemedicine program can produce excellent patient and family satisfaction scores.
I also learned about different grants that are available to hospitals. According to Donna, "Many grants are available to hospitals, especially in the area of rural healthcare. These grants can help hospitals invest in a telemedicine program and, with appropriate monitoring and outcomes support, hospitals can retain the grants so they can continue, and expand, their telemedicine program."
This is just the tip of the telemed iceberg when it comes to leveraging the benefits and opportunities available to your CAH.
You can find out more during our upcoming webinar, "Building and Marketing a Telemedicine Program," on Tuesday, September 9 from 12 - 1 p.m. (CDT). Donna will take a deep dive into the clinical and financial side of telemedicine, and I'll share a marketing perspective both in the webinar and in my upcoming blog.