The Growing Role of Telehealth in Nursing Homes

The telehealth market is growing and nursing homes are finding that the use of telemedicine reduces hospitalizations and improves patient outcomes.The Growing Role of Telehealth in Nursing Homes

Read more about how skilled nursing homes may be one of the areas where telemedicine is going to do the most good.

Nursing Homes Face a Harder Job Than Ever

Long stays in a hospital are bad for senior patients due to costs and prolonged exposure to germs. They can also be bad for hospitals that need that space for new patients, but want to ensure their senior patients get the care they need to avoid readmissions.

Skilled nursing homes are the solution for patients that still need care but shouldn’t be stuck in the hospital for prolonged stays. Having skilled registered nurses and nursing assistants on hand to help with the daily care goes a long way, but many of the patients that fall into this category often still have serious enough conditions that they’d be better served by a doctor.

The number of patients in nursing homes that could really benefit from that higher level of care is also growing.

From 2005 to 2009, the number of patients with 8 or more chronic conditions in nursing homes increased over 10%, and the proportion of patients with a severe illness grew to account for over half of the nursing home population.

That’s a lot for nursing home staff to handle on their own and oftentimes the patients have needs that the staff’s training doesn’t adequately cover. When the patients need a doctor’s care, particularly in the nighttime hours when doctors aren’t present at the nursing home, they often end up transferred back to the hospital – the place the nursing home was meant to help them avoid.

The Use of Telemedicine in Nursing Homes

Telemedicine is a great and relatively easy way to bridge the gap between the knowledge and skills the nurses on staff have and the help patients sometimes need from doctors. If the nursing home can connect with doctors without putting their patient through a trip to the hospital, it’s better for the patient and saves everyone time and money.

According to John Whitman, executive director of the TRECS Institute, “Studies show that approximately 60 to 70% of all nursing home transfers to the hospital are unnecessary.” That’s a lot of wasted time, money and effort when there’s a better way.

Multiple nursing homes have now tested out using telemedicine to replace hospital visits. The RAVEN program instituted in 17 nursing homes found that telemedicine reduced potentially unnecessary hospitalizations by 26%, emergency department visits by 40% and that it saved Medicare $40 billion in the process.

A 2015 study of a skilled nursing facility in New York found that an off-hours telemedicine service helped them avoid 91 hospital admissions, saving $1.3 million in Medicare costs and helping their patients achieve better health outcomes.

What You Need to Get Started

Implementing telemedicine in your own skilled nursing home doesn’t necessarily require complicated technology. An iPad with a HIPAA compliant app like Zoom can provide the combination of audio and visibility you need for telemedicine but more advanced technology like the carts from companies like Curavi and VSee can add more functionality to help doctors learn more, like a digital stethoscope for instance.

Using telemedicine will require staff to accept and embrace the change and potentially learn all new technology to make it happen – something that can be a challenge.

Fortunately, based on the results from the facilities that have tried, bringing telemedicine into a skilled nursing facility is worth making some changes. As with any transition, it’s likely to take the larger industry some time to embrace telemedicine and make it a normal part of skilled nursing, but its adoption is likely to grow in the coming years.

Have you used telehealth to enhance your health care? We’d like to hear more about your experiences in the comments below.

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