Hospitalization accounts for a third of the healthcare spend in the U.S.  Given that, it’s only logical for providers to explore care options that could help avoid hospitalization – including readmissions, which cost tens of billions of dollars annually.  That’s despite the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, which is designed to improve communication between patients, providers, and caregivers to reduce unplanned readmissions.

Among the issues is that avoidable admissions can consume hospital resources that could otherwise be used to treat emergencies and other necessary hospitalizations more efficiently.  The concept follows the strategy of moving towards value-based care models, which reward providers for positive outcomes and, in the case of HRRP, penalizes them for high readmission rates.  The idea is that increased communications and coordination can help lead to better long-term outcomes and quality of life for patients, and save time and costs for providers, patients, and payers alike. Conversely, an increased flow of patients into hospitals can lead to lower care standards and strained resources, as providers try to treat more patients than they are ideally equipped for.

How has telehealth impacted health care?

Digital healthcare technologies can play a significant role in enabling communication and information exchange that can help reduce the risk for patients and reduce complications that could result in hospital visits.

Improved Follow-ups

Patients may not always report worsening conditions, assuming they will be short-lived or simply not realizing they could lead to additional complications.  Telehealth visits allow providers to follow up with patients following procedures or other appointments, to check on conditions and whether treatment plans are having the desired effect.  Even short virtual visits that increase the volume of patient-physician interactions can help patients follow treatment plans, and can provide valuable insight into patient conditions, especially visual indicators during video calls.  Telehealth can also make it easier for physicians to see patients who would otherwise have difficulty getting to in-person follow-ups for any number of reasons.

Increased Patient Engagement

Digital engagement tools offer a variety of opportunities to increase patient engagement in their ongoing care and wellness.  Patient portals and apps can provide patient-specific updates and information, helping them better understand their conditions and needs.  AI-driven virtual assistants or chatbots can also help answer patient questions, including those specific to their conditions or treatment, helping reduce the burden on provider staff while addressing patient needs immediately.  Virtual visits – voice or video – can be an easy way for patients to communicate in real-time with their providers, if only to briefly check in to see if everything is going well and to answer any questions.  The more providers are able to interact with patients using various channels, the more they can help patients stay informed and involved, which can help reduce complications.

Treatment Adherence

Apps and portals can be used to provide interactive medication reminders, which then require response from patients to confirm adherence.  These treatment monitoring solutions can help keep patients on track but can also alert providers when patients fail to follow prescribed protocols.  Other connected devices, like digital pillboxes and activity trackers can also serve similar functions, automatically helping providers or other caregivers monitor how well patients are following their medication and other treatment plans.

Early Intervention

Remote patient monitoring devices that record and transmit patient vital signs can be effective in keeping providers updated on patient conditions and, in particular, alerting them to any significant changes.  By understanding changing conditions at early stages, physicians can communicate with patients and caregivers to try to understand what created the changes and adjust treatments or schedule a home or in-office visits to prevent later complications that could result in hospitalization. Remote patient monitoring can be an important tool in reducing hospitalizations for chronic disease patients.

Naturally, not all hospitalizations can be avoided.  But, with the inefficiencies in the healthcare system and the burden already placed on providers – particularly with the increasing prevalence of elderly patients and chronic conditions – it’s imperative that providers take advantage of the tools available to help avoid hospitalizations.  The additional benefit is that, by staying healthier, patients are able to age more comfortably and, ideally, in their homes, again reducing the strain on the system.

Learn more about digital health tools that can help better manage patient conditions to avoid hospitalization.

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