How Telehealth Can Help Hospitals Manage Post-Acute Care Costs

HHS estimates that 25 percent of all Americans – and 75 percent of those over age 65 – are dealing with multiple chronic conditions like diabetes and congestive heart failure (CHF).

Hospitals and providers now share the responsibility for the total medical expense (TME) of these patients, yet up to 40% of those costs come in the post-acute phase. One key way to lower costs and improve outcomes is to integrate telehealth into a variety of post-acute care settings.

This year’s InTouch Telehealth Innovation Forum offered several blueprints for how to achieve this, including a presentation by Sue Thompson, administrative director for integrated care management at PinnacleHealth System in Pennsylvania.

In a pilot project at Pinnacle’s Colonial Park Care Center, Thompson’s first move was to narrow the network from 40 skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) to just five preferred providers. Each of them received an InTouch telehealth device to aid in things like wound and ostomy evaluations. Colonial Park’s readmission rate quickly dropped from 20%-plus to 16%.

Thompson feels that telehealth technology fosters a “we’re in this together” mindset across the care continuum. “SNFs are now facing the same quality metrics and value-based purchasing requirements that hospitals do,” she said. “All stakeholders are looking for ways to improve post-acute care.”

Thompson’s enthusiasm for telehealth was shared by presenter Barry Bittman, MD, CEO of the Institute of Innovative Healthcare. He used the hypothetical case of 87-year-old “Jennie” – a woman with diabetes and CHF who does well in the hospital but has difficulties in the post-acute phase, whether it’s a SNF, home health provider or simply at home alone.

Bittman also notes that telehealth can provide the hospital-caliber oversight that the Jennies of the world so urgently need. In his view, telehealth is the most cost-effective way to improve care coordination and reduce the number of costly 911-driven hospital readmissions.

A Porsche dealer wouldn’t dream of allowing you to drive off the lot without a plan for ongoing maintenance, education and support. Hospitals must likewise have a plan for post-acute care – one that relies heavily on telehealth technology.