COVID-19 put massive financial pressure on the American health system. From March to June 2020 alone, American hospitals experienced $202.6 billion in losses. Non-emergency procedures were canceled, people started putting off primary care visits, and the medical equipment supply chain was disrupted, increasing the cost to treat patients.
Government funding is sparse: The October 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill set healthcare funds for in-home health services and wages for health professionals at $150 billion, far lower than the $400 billion President Joe Biden had once proposed. Recent debates over the bill hardly mention funding for the healthcare industry, leaving many wondering how much money healthcare systems will actually receive.
Without guarantees of additional financial support, hospitals, clinics, and independent practices need to continue searching for lower-cost opportunities to continue providing quality care. According to Strata, less than 20% of health systems with cost reduction goals meet their target. Furthermore, after one year, 95% of them report costs rising back up. To reduce costs, drive revenue, and improve quality of care, it’s critical for healthcare systems to understand how telehealth reduces healthcare costs and leverage home-based care with telehealth technology.
A 2021 study conducted by AccentCare on telehealth implementationfound a hybrid care group had 6% fewer 30-day hospitalizations and about 4% fewer 60-day hospitalizations compared with a traditional care group. Even more interesting, patients who received home healthcare were equal to or more satisfied than those who received traditional care. This is important — patients who are happy with their healthcare are 39% less likely to be readmitted than those who aren’t satisfied.
There are a few reasons telehealth patient satisfaction is higher. First and foremost, hybrid healthcare is more convenient. Patients no longer need to worry about taking days off work or finding the time to drive to the doctor. This also lessens missed appointments. The integration of telehealth devices, like digital stethoscopes and ECG devices, ensures patients receive the same level of care as they would in person.
Recognizing the positive impact of technology on healthcare costs and quality brings healthcare systems one step closer to adoption. However, hospitals need to know the best ways to implement telemedicine to provide cost-effective home-based care. Below are two concrete ways healthcare organizations can improve patient outcomes in lower-cost care settings:
1. Hospital-at-home programs for acute care patients
Hospital at home programs gives patients access to hospital-level care without ever needing to leave their homes. These programs are not only effective in reducing complications, but they also cut care costs by 30% or more. These types of programs are already well-established in countries with single-payer health systems like Canada and England, and the U.S. is catching up.
Currently, 34 states house hospitals approved for the Acute Hospital Care at Home waiver program. Approved facilities allow Medicare payments for expanded services provided in the home, such as treating asthma and other acute conditions.
More healthcare groups are seeing the impact of technology on healthcare costs and quality: Some of the country’s leading hospitals, including Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins, already offer advanced care at home. The Johns Hopkins model was developed to provide better care for elderly patients, and early trials found it not only saved money, but also improved patient outcomes and increased patient satisfaction.
2. Telehealth support for chronic disease management
Sixty percent of American adults live with one or more chronic illnesses, making up the bulk of healthcare expenditures. Telehealth reduces healthcare costs and improves outcomes in the chronically ill.
One study of Medicare beneficiaries found home healthcare cost $2,000 less per month per patient than patients receiving hospital care. It also led to lower readmissions, which further decreased costs. As 95% of Medicare spending goes toward patients with chronic conditions, delivering telehealth homecare goes a long way in offsetting those costs.
With no promises of increased healthcare funds, it’s essential that hospitals look for new ways to lower expenses without sacrificing patient care. By increasing in-home clinical care, healthcare systems will improve patient satisfaction and outcomes while also significantly reducing overall healthcare costs. For hospitals looking to adopt telehealth, hospital-at-home programs and chronic disease management are strong places to start.
Eric Bacon is president at AMD Global Telemedicine, Inc.