Telehealth: The next phase in health care

Thursday, October 15, 2015

YARMOUTH, Maine – Could the trend of pushing more health care into the home finally push telehealth to the forefront?

While the concept of telehealth—the use of electronic information and technology to support health care, patient and professional education, public health and health administration—has been around for several years, it’s been slow to catch on, particularly in the HME industry.

“I am aware that a number of home health agencies are doing it on select patients,” said Woody O’Neal, vice president of Pelham, Ala.-based O2 Neal Medical. “DME companies need to be more involved in that somehow. I think it’s the next phase of health care.”

With the Affordable Care Act requiring hospitals to reduce readmissions, the time may be right for an expansion of telehealth services, say providers.

“I think that HME is uniquely qualified to play a critical component of that,” said Dan Heckman, president and general manager of Heckman Healthcare in Decatur, Ill. And, as sicker patients are being care for in the home acute, “I think there are lots of things we can be doing in the home.”

In fact, telehealth services have been used to monitor CPAP patients, they say.

Barry Berger, a former HME provider, added telehealth services in 2010, monitoring blood pressure, weight and pulse ox, but eventually dropped it because it hadn’t really caught on among medical professionals. Now, as president of Accredited Nursing, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based home health agency, he’s taking another look.

“I believe that there’s a definite clinical value in being able to determine whether someone’s health is declining and being able to catch that,” said Berger. “But, it’s a question of whether the physicians are ordering it.”