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In the Northeast, Telehealth Gets Creative - With Good Results

Healthcare providers large and small are putting telehealth and mHealth to good use in the Northeast, saving lives and money and moving the needle toward value-based care.

By Eric Wicklund

- From a Maine clinic providing healthcare-by-boat to remote islanders to a health system in New York’s Finger Lakes region worried about travel costs and safety, telehealth comes in many ways, shapes and forms in the Northeast.

In fact, the region has become an ideal test-bed for the latest trends in mHealth and telehealth, says Danielle Louder, of the eight-state NorthEast Telehealth Resource Center.

“There are programs out there that are seeing some remarkable outcomes,” says Louder, director of technology-based initiatives for the Augusta, Me.-based NETRC. “Some of the work we’re seeing has kind of been unprecedented.”

The NETRC is one of 14 such centers scattered across the nation, 12 of which cover designated regions and two of which provide nationwide support for technical and policy issues. The centers are designed to help anyone – from providers to entrepreneurs to local governments – looking to launch, scale or maintain a telehealth program.

Louder, who will be speaking at Xtelligent Media’s Value-Based Care Summit on Nov. 15 in Boston, says healthcare providers throughout the Northeast are finding value in platforms that enable remote patient monitoring, chronic disease management and remote access to clinicians, and they’re moving the needle on reducing wasteful expenditures, improving clinical outcomes and cutting back on costly hospital readmissions.

READ MORE: New Telehealth Training Center Aims to be a National Resource

In New York’s Finger Lakes region, for example, primary care providers used to screen about 25 percent of their diabetic patients for retinopathy. A telehealth program enabling remote screening has bumped that up to better than 90 percent, ensuring that more patients are treated earlier for costly and life-altering eye issues.

Just as important, Louder says, the telehealth platform helped the health system cut back on travel for its staff. In a region famous for its harsh winters, that helped reduce the number of accidents.

In Connecticut, meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind eConsult platform has helped Community Health Center, Inc., which runs more than 200 clinics in the state, to screen underserved communities for chronic illnesses. The program, which connects the clinics to  specialists via telemedicine, not only helps patients to manage their disease at home, but cut in half the number of follow-up consults. NETRC worked with the state's Department of Social Services to secure reimbursement for asynchronous eConsult services from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for a Medicaid pilot focusing on adults with cardiovascular health issues.

And in Vermont, a recent store-and-forward-based teledermatology pilot involving 44 patients reduced the time spent waiting to see a specialist from 62 days to 12 days. For anyone with a tick bite that might lead to Lyme Disease or a suspicious-looking mole, that time is crucial.

“There’s a very large return on investment in terms of what we are able to prevent,” Louder says.

READ MORE: Telemedicine Success Linked to Workflow, Rather Than Technology

“The issues, the challenges, the barriers that were associated with technology just 10 years ago have gone away,” she says, noting the event the most remote provider in upstate New Hampshire or Maine can gain access to the latest in telehealth and mHealth tools. “Technology isn’t a barrier any more, and interoperability is better because it has to be.”

But getting permission to use that technology – and paying for it – remains an issue.

“The lack of consistency in our policy environment” is a challenge to providers all across the country seeking to use telehealth technology, she says, noting that no two states take the same view on permitted uses or standards for telehealth. Whereas one state might OK store-and-forward telehealth, another might restrict it; and where one state enables remote patient monitoring in the patient’s home, another mandates that it be delivered to a healthcare site and renders the home off-limits.

In addition, she says, “people still take a very traditional view in how healthcare systems are reimbursed. There’s no mandate for private payers to be consistent.”

Back in the Northeast, Louder says, that type of environment compels healthcare providers – be they a big health system or a small-town doctor – to get creative.

READ MORE: Store-and-Forward Telehealth Service Replaces the Office Visit

“We’re seeing something new just about every week,” she says.

To learn more about how healthcare providers can leverage big data analytics strategies for a successful transition to the value-based care environment, sign up for a seat at the Value-Based Care Summit on November 15, 2016

Visit ValueBasedCareSummit.com today to register.

Dig Deeper:

Making the Most Out of Telehealth

Taking Telehealth to Rural America

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