Necessity, it’s often said, is the mother of invention, and while telehealth has been around for many years, the COVID-19 pandemic brought it to the forefront of healthcare delivery. Fortunately, telehealth isn’t a mere remedial tool to span gaps in the delivery of care; rather, it has proven to be a robust and vital resource across the continuum of care. It’s here to stay—and it will transform the care landscape.
Telehealth offers significant benefits for residents, caregivers and facilities alike:
Ease of use. A telehealth visit is no more complicated than any other virtual meeting, and the process of administering one is simple and straightforward. Given the right hardware, software, processes and personnel, caregiver and resident can meaningfully interact with a click or a screen tap.
Deeper involvement of loved ones. By its very nature, telehealth enables loved ones to potentially tie into a physician visit (given the proper authorization to do so). This helps keep them better informed on the health status of their loved one, and it can help them establish and nurture relationships with physicians and other caregivers.
Reduced hospitalizations and rehospitalizations. LTPAC organizations should seek to avoid admitting residents to acute-care facilities unless doing so is deemed medically necessary. Rehospitalizations in particular are undesirable; they can be difficult – traumatic even – for residents, and they can adversely impact quality measures for the referring organization. Yet without access to physician care, LTPAC organizations often have no other choice. Now with telehealth, physicians can order interventions that prevent hospitalizations and rehospitalizations. That, in turn, also means a shorter gap between diagnosis and treatment.
Infection prevention. When used properly, telehealth helps to prevent the potential spread of contagions caused by anyone – physicians included – who physically enter facilities.
Greater efficiency. Telehealth offers fast and easy access to physicians, so residents are seen sooner and receive treatment without unnecessary delays. Additionally, physicians that utilize telehealth are able to see more residents without delays caused by physical travel to facilities.
Easier access to specialists. Often, specialists book months out and cannot easily travel to remote areas.
Environmental benefits. Decreased physician travel means less carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
Improved health outcomes and health management. By facilitating quick and direct connections between physicians and residents, medical and even behavioral conditions can be more readily assessed, diagnosed and treated. Among its many benefits, telehealth allows physicians and other caregivers to monitor the impact of daily activities on their health status. For residents, this all translates to greater resident and family satisfaction, greater provider satisfaction and enhanced outcomes overall. But for LTPAC organizations, it also can positively impact quality measures and Five Star ratings, which is vitally important. That, in turn, has profound implications on the perceptions that members of the healthcare community have of LTPAC organizations via data that is shared with hospital networks, insurance carrier networks and others. Simply put, enhanced outcomes have far-reaching implications.
Of course, the various telehealth modalities offer physicians and LTPAC organizations different ways to deliver treatment, as well as collect and analyze data. In the end, this helps caregivers better manage a resident’s overall health.
Telehealth and Rural Facilities – A New Day for Enhanced Outcomes
Telehealth is a useful treatment tool in any setting where caregiver and resident are physically separated. Yet, it truly stands out in rural areas and will be a key driver of enhanced outcomes for years to come.
Recently, critical access hospitals have had their funding cut, while Medicaid expansion has only been adopted in 20-plus states. That means there’s less money for immediate healthcare in rural areas. In the past, many physicians in rural areas had to make long drives just to get to a skilled nursing facility, or see home health patients—and more often than not, they did so on a minimal schedule.
Likewise, rural residents and often their loved ones were compelled to drive long distances – sometimes hundreds of miles – to access their doctor or to receive care at a hospital when physicians were in their area.
With telehealth, there’s no longer a need for a resident or their loved one to schedule an appointment well in advance, then make a long, arduous trip and potentially risk exposure to COVID-19 or other illnesses. They simply jump online and have unimpeded access to their caregiver.