Telehealth gives providers 'cutting edge'

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Telehealth is not a new concept, but it has yet to become a big part of the healthcare system. Still, some brave HME providers are boldly going where others fear to tread.

'Let me show you the future'

Provider Barry Berger likes to be on the cutting edge--even if his customers aren't ready for it yet. That's why the owner of Accredited Medical Equipment and Supplies in Woodland Hills, Calif., has created a "Smart Store" within his 4,200-square-foot retail HME location. He carries the latest gadgets in patient safety and telehealth, and offers a subscription monitoring service.

"I've got all these devices in our store," said Berger. "Are they flying off the shelf? No, but it allows me to be cutting edge to our referral sources. If they need a bed, they may think of coming to me just because of the approach we are taking."

Telehealth allows someone's vital signs to be transferred to a central station via telephone or computer. A change outside the norm, like a high blood pressure reading, triggers a call.

"There is a 72-hour window where, if you catch a patient's symptoms within that time, you can get them to a doctor or get a nurse out there," said Berger. "They could just need a simple tweak to their medicine and we avoid a $25,000 hospital stay."

Berger believes that exposing baby boomers to the technology now will pave the way for them to adopt it down the road.

"Someone will come in for a blood pressure unit, and I'll show it to them," he said. "But then I'll also say, 'Let me show you the future.'"

'A step in the right direction'

Despite the savings potential that telehealth presents, there's no reimbursement for it. That's something that Winston-Salem, N.C.-based HME provider Horizon MedCorp says it's working to change.

"We've identified codes and we're going after creating new ones to try and establish reimbursement for remote monitoring," said Doug Cruitt, president. "At the end of the day, it comes down to the almighty dollar."

The provider, which recently opened an office in San Antonio, Texas, has established disease state management programs that include remote monitoring for diabetes and asthma/COPD patients.

"Compliance is an issue and it's costing the system money and costing people their health," he said. "Let's find a way to help the patients but also ease the financial burden on everyone."

Horizon MedCorp partners with assisted living facilities, home health agencies and other HME providers to implement remote monitoring programs. After a couple of years of "spinning our wheels," the concept is gaining traction, said Cruitt. One of the provider's partner agencies released a study last year that showed patients in monitoring programs had a greater reduction in A1C scores, a measure of a patient's blood glucose level over three months, than those on medications.

"It really does improve patient health," he said. "We can take that one step further and say, 'For every reduction in A1C, that's going to be 'X' amount of dollars saved.' It's a step in the right direction."