We monitor congestive heart failure, and here at UPMC, we have a couple hundred live video visits every day. The average age of participating patients is 72, and the satisfaction rate is 93 percent; 96 percent of them would recommend the program to another person.
It doesn’t surprise us because, if you’re elderly, remote monitoring really gives you the convenience of getting healthcare at home, and that’s what it’s all about.
HEALTHTECH: What is the potential for telehealth in senior care?
Senior care is a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of telehealth in a variety of ways. Patients and residents at skilled nursing facilities and long-term acute care organizations often have a lot of medical issues, and to move them to the emergency room is not inconsequential. It’s hard for the patient and the family and it’s also very expensive.
We’ve started a telehealth company to support seniors in their long-term acute-care skilled nursing facilities. We also use remote monitoring technology in our hospice and for advanced illness care, which is prepalliative care.
HEALTHTECH: What are the biggest misconceptions about telehealth? What about hurdles?
There are a lot of people saying that it’s not good for the patient or that it’s a lower quality of care, but I don’t believe those things have played out. Another misconception that we as an industry have to do better at debunking is this perception that it’s too expensive. We need to show that telehealth is not an additive cost and that it’s actually valuable. One of the biggest hurdles is integrating the technology so that it seamlessly interacts with key healthcare systems. But the potential here is almost limitless.
HEALTHTECH: What have you learned through your service with the American Telemedicine Association?
That telehealth needs to be clarified across the continuum of healthcare. It cannot just be a rural access issue.
It’s something that we at UPMC are uniquely poised to clarify, because we’re a payer-provider and in the third-most rural state but feature a complete line of care, from cradle to grave, including preventive care and well care.
HEALTHTECH: Do doctors being trained today anticipate that telehealth will just be a normal part of patient care?
The physicians of tomorrow will come to practice with the expectation of telehealth. There’s no doubt. They’re seeing it in their fellowships, they’re seeing it in their practices, they’re hearing about it and they’re reading about it. It’s just a matter of time.
There’s also a bit of a carrot-and-stick dichotomy, because if you practice medicine or if you’re a payer and you don’t offer telehealth, you may suffer if other providers around you are offering it. It’s almost as if you have to play defense as well as use it for the right reasons.
HEALTHTECH: What advice would you give to organizations that are just starting to explore telehealth for their own patients?
Do right by the patients, but immediately focus on the value of the business in the operational sense. There often are operational and financial hurdles that make a program impossible unless you help the patient or the system. Identify those challenges early, not late.