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Does Telehealth Technology Adoption Advance Care Coordination?

- As the healthcare industry moves forward with strengthening the quality of services and patient outcomes, telehealth technology adoption gains ground as a means for improving care coordination and accountable care. Due to an ongoing primary care doctor and specialist shortage in various rural communities, the possibilities of telehealth technology adoption bring new opportunities for patients to receive quality care without needing to leave school, work, or their home.

Accountable Care Organizations

One report from the Telemedicine and e-Health journal states that care coordination is vital for patients of traumatic brain injuries. It is especially necessary between families, caregivers, and rehabilitation team members.

Ever since the Department of Veteran Affairs implemented telemedicine-based video capabilities, telehealth technology adoption began spreading across hospitals and clinics throughout the country. The report continues to discuss the benefits of telehealth among traumatic brain injury patients such as improved care coordination and higher levels of patient education.

Specifically, communication needs to be superior between families, caregivers, patients, and their team of medical experts. Telehealth technology offers a solution toward this goal of improved communication.

Rehabilitation needs of these kind of patients can be complex and changing on a regular basis. As such, telehealth technology adoption within hospitals and clinics is advised as a means for strengthening communication and understanding between doctors and patients.

Telemedicine offers a more cost-effective solution for providing care to patients who are otherwise disabled or located in a geographically difficult position when it comes to travel. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been using telehealth services since 2003 and has uncovered a variety of positive solutions for disabled patients including those with brain injuries.

The Department of Veteran Affairs defined telehealth as, “The wider application of care and case management principles to the delivery of healthcare services using health informatics, disease management and telehealth technologies to facilitate access to care and improve the health of designated individuals and populations with the intent of providing the right care in the right place at the right time.”

It is also important to remember that once a patient is discharged from a hospital after any major injury or surgery and essentially becomes disabled, a designated family member of the patient becomes the primary caregiver.

Physicians and rehabilitation specialists will need effective tools for communicating efficiently with caregivers on a patient’s progress, which is where telehealth technology adoption comes in. Effective communication as well as education will push forward the improved recovery status of patients and assist caregivers in strengthening the patient’s resolve as well.

Telerehabilitation is a new term on the horizon that’s been making an impact on evolving the healthcare landscape. This could include the use of videoconferencing technology among patients who would like to communicate with their primary care doctors while located at rehabilitation clinics or an outpatient medical facility.

While telehealth benefits care coordination, it may not be adequately adopted throughout accountable care organizations (ACOs). Alex Kontur, Manager of Research and Projects at eHealth Initiative, spoke about the limited use of telehealth among ACOs in a recent webinar.

“During the month of August, we reached out to commercial and Medicare ACOs to figure out some of the indicators of their scope and coverage and to ask them to think about their health IT infrastructure and how well they’ve been able to build interoperability between systems,” Kontur stated. “We’ve had 69 ACOs submit a response to the survey… most of the ACOs we’ve surveyed are serving public populations [including Medicare and Medicaid patients].”

“Some of the less frequently mentioned technologies that I wanted to note include connectivity to a health information exchange,” Kontur continued. “Telemedicine also had a relatively low rate of use at 23 percent of responding organizations. We’re also seeing extensive work on the part of ACOs to get their patients engaged in care and really drive patient-centricity that ACOs are supposed to be all about.”

“On the IT side, we see 62 percent of ACOs are offering patient portals for patients to view their clinical records. We know portals have trouble in other things like health information exchange. Knowing how many patients actually use those portals is the next metric we’d like to capture. A lot of ACOs are also using alerts and notifications to more appropriately identify services or care delivery.”

“These are often through electronic health records or other clinical decision support system software. We think this shows that technology isn’t central to patient engagement activities right now. It’s unclear how much health IT is supporting these care transitions and planning programs, but when asked about certain activities in the context of their health IT infrastructures, nearly half of ACOs reported having difficulty engaging patients,” he concluded.

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