Chronic care conditions impact the lives of over 50 percent of Americans and consume over $850 billion a year in health-care expenditures; it can be said that telehealth and chronic care management (CCM) are a match made in medical heaven.
By its very constitution, many of the benefits of telehealth—one of the industry’s most recent and revolutionary forms of health-care delivery—are a natural fit in meeting the needs of patients living with long-term or chronic conditions.
Telehealth provides: online medical consultations; remote patient monitoring in real time; easy access to care for patients with physical limitations or who live in remote areas; sharing of medical data over the Internet; patient-clinician communication via mobile devices or videoconferencing; teleconferencing and collaboration among health professionals; forwarding of medical images for diagnosis; tele-triage services (provision of health care by phone), and more.
While still a burgeoning field, branches of telehealth and telemedicine already include services in the areas of telecardiology, teleradiology, telerehabilitation, telepsychiatry, and other fields. This means that patients with chronic heart conditions, hypertension, physical disabilities, and mental health problems can access care and medical consultation from home. Also on the telemedicine roster are the elderly, people with visual or auditory limitations, individuals being treated for asthma, diabetes, insomnia, depression, and other chronic conditions.
Telehealth Services for CCM Programs
Moreover, the telehealth paradigm already has proven success rates in areas that have traditionally posed problems for chronic-care patients, such as adherence to medication protocols, compliance with behavior programs, and the ability to follow other self-management directives. Telehealth services converge perfectly with CCM programs by providing remote medication management, virtual follow-up visits, individual/group education, and patient empowerment. Additionally, new health-monitoring devices encourage patients to become more active participants in their own treatment and allow health professionals to capture real-time data readings instead of relying solely on patient-reported information.
To date, controlled trials of telehealth programs have yielded promising results, including reduced hospital admissions, reduced emergency room visits, decreased mortality rates, increased adherence to medication regimens, and enhanced quality of life for people with a range of illnesses and disorders. Telehealth is also effective in treating children and adolescents and provides much-needed relief and reassurance for family members who are caring for or supporting their loved ones at home.
Telehealth Payment Reform
As the global population continues to live longer, care for the elderly will become increasingly paramount, requiring effective means of managing and treating aging individuals in their home settings. Fortunately, while comprehensive telehealth payment reform has yet to materialize, more government grants are being given to support telehealth programs while innovative payment models and Medicare and Medicaid coverage of telehealth services are increasing.