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Hospitals Reaping Financial Benefits of Telehealth

Karen Minich-Pourshadi, for HealthLeaders Media, July 19, 2012

GPT, which began as part of the Georgia State Insurance Office and in 2008 became a private nonprofit foundation, operates a Web-based system that allows doctors and nurses to schedule visits, and it provides marketing, education, and training on telehealth; plus the system permits providers to electronically share medical records and other data. The undertaking has been so successful that GPT is working to duplicate the program in Alabama, Florida, and other states, she says.

Once it was established, Guy explains, the statewide telehealth network helped young and old alike. In 2010, for instance, in rural Nashville, Ga., 44 children arrived at the emergency department with asthma-related illnesses. So, as of 2011, school-based telemedicine clinics were added to area schools and last year only one child landed in the hospital ED, she explains. Guy adds that 118 ED visits were avoided through the school-based clinics, saving an estimated $354,000. Children with chronic conditions may not get the specialty care needed, but through these clinics they can be routinely checked by specialists—ensuring better continuity of care while also helping parents avoid work absences.

GPT has also placed telehealth into nursing homes. In 2011, using telehealth resulted in 160 ED visits being avoided, saving approximately $480,000 in ED cost, Guy says, "In the past, these older patients may have just called for an ambulance when they had a problem. But now patients can be seen by a doctor without an expensive ambulance trip to the ED. Plus they can use it for routine access to care, and by getting that they're less likely to end up in the hospital as frequently," Guy says.

Telehealth visits saved 310 miles and nearly six hours of traveling on average, according to a study by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, a three-hospital system for children and teens.  CHA reviewed 609 appointments over a nine-month period and noted that approximately 86% of patients would have missed school and more than 80% of parents would have missed a full day of work to go to the city for an in-office visit, according to data published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Additionally, Guy explains that out of the 40,009 telehealth visits GPT tracked, a random sample showed an average savings of patient travel time of 124 miles per encounter and nearly $762,027 in fuel alone.

Although Georgia has mandated that the telemedicine services be reimbursed by payers, not all states have enacted telehealth legislation. Still, some payers are moving forward on their own. Insurers such as Aetna, Cigna, UnitedHealthcare, and BlueCross and BlueShield, along with some large employers like General Electric and Delta Air Lines, are advocating the use of telemedicine as a way to make doctor visits less expensive and more easily available.

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3 comments on "Hospitals Reaping Financial Benefits of Telehealth"


Nirav Desai (8/30/2012 at 2:22 PM)
Just a few points worth adding: 1. Telehealth consults can actualy be better than face-to-face consults in some instances. For example, if a patient suffers from breathing problems and lives in a home with poor air quality, it is easier for a doctor to see how the patient's breathing is affected in his own home then to have the patient come in to the relatively clean environment of the office. 2. For-profit hospitals and health systems see telehealth as a significant advantage in increasing their competitiveness for getting new patients. Despite reimbursement challenges, I believe competition will drive telehealth adoption even more than patient outcomes. Hospitals are already feeling the pressure to increase profits, cut costs, and provide better quality care - and telehealth affords them the ability to leverage their resources to accomplish this.

Ruth P (7/20/2012 at 12:03 PM)
I am excited to see Georgia as a major player in the telehealth industry!

Mike Zingalis (7/19/2012 at 11:11 AM)
I've seen this in action, and it a great tool that will only expand. When you look at the mobile phone alone, and the computing power that it has....you are going to see the next wave here. For the web, many companies like Digital Group of Telehealth Companies already have the standardized software portal for hospitals and applications ready to go. Also, in the CMS space there are companies that I've consulted for, like Oxcyon, that put interfaces on top of the existing platform to allow design changes and data display changes through the site. Not only that, but through the content management system the hospital could have a multi-tier portal for the hospital, intranet, client services, and more. The information regarding prices for speicific tasks within the medical industry will only become more available, and luxury is lazyness and affordability...so to think that people would want to come into a hospital repeatedly to be charged heavy sums vs. making a phone call at a fraction of the cost is an unrealistic perspective at best. That's my two cents. Anyone got change for a buck?