Today, chronic disease management continues to be one of the biggest challenges for both healthcare providers and their patients across the country.
One recent study shows that nearly half of all adults in the US have a chronic disease and, almost 33% of the population is living with more than one chronic disease. Just about 7 chronic diseases, namely – diabetes, cancer, hypertension, heart disease, pulmonary conditions, stroke, and mental illness – have a total impact on the US economy of close to $1.3 trillion annually.
As these disorders continue to overwhelm healthcare systems across the globe, providers are now looking at ways they can ameliorate chronic disease management, without negatively impacting the quality of care being delivered.
Telemedicine has emerged as an effective solution on this front. Physicians and specialists can use mobile devices, live audio and video, mHealth apps, and other smart digital tools to monitor a patient’s condition from a distance and at any given point in time.
In this piece, we will be looking at three ways telemedicine is transforming the chronic disease management landscape and improving outcomes for patients suffering through these diseases.
Telemedicine Consults for Increased Access to Specialized Care
According to one recent report published by the Pew Research Center, close to 46 million Americans currently reside in the nation’s rural regions. This implies that many patients across the United States lack access to healthcare facilities and have to cover long distances just to be able to see their primary care provider or a specialist.
Additionally, patients with chronic conditions greatly rely on specialist care when trying to cure their symptoms, which can be difficult to receive in some parts of the country, making it more arduous for them to consult their healthcare provider on a regular basis.
Telemedicine platforms and apps are rapidly helping healthcare organizations provide people in rural regions access to cost-effective and efficient solutions for managing chronic conditions right from the comfort of their homes.
Leveraging Virtual Consultations and Remote Patient Monitoring
For example, remote patient monitoring (RPM) runs on leveraging virtual consultations in combination with medical devices and the internet of medical things (IOMT). By using connected technology to transmit patient data over to the physicians, the biggest benefit of telemedicine is that it helps patients get access to specialist care irrespective of their geographic location.
Telemedicine allows patients to see physicians and therapists from the comfort of their own homes via phone or video. It also allows providers to monitor patients and even perform physical exams from a distance.
For chronic diseases like diabetes, physicians typically need to educate patients on self management of their disease by asking them to adopt a healthy lifestyle, take the prescribed medications on time, and eat healthy food. With telehealth technology, physicians can now also monitor the patient’s blood sugar levels remotely. Digital glucometer machines that transmit the patient’s blood sugar levels to the physician on a daily basis can help them in formulating an optimal treatment plan remotely.
Telehealth is the future of healthcare delivery as it eliminates the patient’s need for traveling long distances to see a specialist healthcare provider in person. It also ensures that patients are treated by the right provider in the right setting, by facilitating effective peer-to-peer collaboration and remote access to specialist care.
Engaging Patients Through Wearables and Telemedicine Apps
In addition to receiving certain forms of treatment and taking routine medications, patients suffering from chronic illnesses may have to alter their lifestyle if they want their condition to improve. This may include anything from quitting smoking, changes in diet, or exercising more often.
Even then, when left on their own, a few patients may find it inconvenient to follow through on these types of treatment regimens, which means their condition may deteriorate.
Developing a telemedicine app that embeds features to track vital signs and keeps a live record of an individual’s exercise, diet and medication regimen would be a great way to boost patient engagement levels and improve patient compliance with medical treatment plans.
Customized push notifications sent through the app can prompt patients about their medication regime, eating healthy, or provide suggestions and tips for staying active. This further speeds up the recovery process.
With a current RPM report of patient vital signs and IOMT diagnostics available to them during virtual consultations, healthcare providers receive a more comprehensive view of how treatment is progressing and what changes should be made with the treatment regimen to improve outcomes.
One best practice here would be to store all patient data on virtual private servers. This boosts its interoperability across the healthcare organization and increases its accessibility so that the concerned physician can check it at any given point in time through something as convenient as their cell phone.
Reducing Hospital Readmissions and Overall Costs of Care
Patients with chronic illnesses account for more than 81% of all hospital admissions. This tends to be one of the most exorbitant features of healthcare delivery. But when physicians and specialists monitor a patient’s condition remotely, they can help the patient better manage their treatment, considerably mitigating the risk of them having to be readmitted to the hospital.
Telehealth can, therefore, also easily be used to help improve outcomes for immune-compromised patients. It’s a win-win situation for both patients and their providers.
Doctors can leverage telemedicine to ensure patients answer questions about their medications, are following recommended lifestyle changes, and triage new symptoms swiftly to keep hospital readmission rates as low as possible.
Telemedicine Programs for Congestive Heart Failure
For example, Southwest Telehealth Resource Center (SWTRC) has a telemedicine program to help patients who are suffering from congestive heart failure (CHF). The hospital has managed to save $93,000 in a single year by avoiding emergency hospitalizations through telemedicine and remote monitoring in the management of CHF.
By using telemedicine to check in with the patients on a daily basis, a marked reduction in patient readmissions into hospitals was observed. The program provided each patient with an electronic weight scale, a satellite phone to provide service in areas that do not have any cell towers, and solar panels to charge those scales. The patient’s weight data was transferred automatically to the dashboard where the healthcare providers could prescribe the course of action the patients needed to take in order to manage their weight.
Similarly, after implementing a telehealth program in conjunction with remote patient monitoring (RPM), UPMC Health Plan, an insurance provider that covers more than 3 million members in Pennsylvania, saw very few CHF patients being sent to observation units. Participating members had a 71% less probability of having to stay in an observation unit than the members who did not participate in the said program.
All in all, telemedicine can prove to be an effective tool in chronic disease management by reducing the chances of a lapse in treatment, lowering the hospital readmission rates, and keeping patients in touch with their care providers.
Healthcare organizations looking at leveraging this state-of-the-art technological innovation should also simultaneously be on the lookout for ways they can augment its functionality with time. Remember, innovation is the key when wanting to grow your telemedicine platform.
About Our Contributor
Dr. Leo P. Langlois is an extensively experienced board certified physician and surgeon, graduated from brown university medical school, completed residency training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and fellowship trained at University of California Davis with over 27 years of experience treating chronic disabling conditions and chronic intractable pain who has run a successful private practice in Bakersfield, California since 2003.