- A behavioral telehealth management program delivered over a two-month period helped to cut the number of hospital admissions for cardiac patients by nearly a third, reports a study published in the American Journal of Managed Care. The program improved patient engagement and produced cost savings by targeting patients with heart conditions who needed additional psychological support to cope with their illnesses.
“For many individuals with medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, concomitant behavioral health issues—such as depression, stress, and anxiety—are common, and pose substantial challenges to recovery from medical illness,” the study says. “Even in those individuals who do not meet the clinical criteria for behavioral health concerns, inadequate resiliency to cope with the challenges posed in the face of a medical or life event can significantly impact health.”
The researchers enlisted nearly four hundred patients for the study, 201 of whom completed an 8-week behavioral telehealth intervention program. The average age of the participants was 56 years across both groups, and approximately 70 percent were male. Some patients experienced comorbidities such as diabetes or hypertension, but most exhibited no evident clinical depression at the time of the program. The program consisted of sixteen video or telephone sessions held over the two months in which providers and licensed social workers reviewed the patients’ progress and assessed their mental health.
The study found that patients completing the telehealth program had lower scores on standardized tests for depression, anxiety, and stress. They experienced 38 percent fewer hospital admissions and 31 percent fewer readmissions. Each individual patient in the intervention group was also less likely to be admitted to the hospital multiple times. The telehealth group also spent 63 percent fewer days in the inpatient hospital setting in the six month follow-up period.
Providing patients with emotional and mental health support also produced cost savings, the study says. By reducing the amount of time spent in the hospital, the program’s costs were offset in as little as six months.
“These substantial reductions in healthcare utilization and associated cost savings were attributable to the delivery of a high-quality behavioral health program for this high-risk group of patients with cardiovascular disease,” says the study. “This study shows that focused targeting of patients with high-risk clinical conditions, coupled with highly successful engagement strategies, can lead not only to meaningful behavioral health improvements, but also to improved medical outcomes and lower healthcare expenditures.”
The researchers add that targeting patients for telehealth or other chronic disease management interventions during a moment “when they may be particularly receptive to change,” such as during or after a hospitalization, could contribute to the success of programs that require commitment and adherence.
“These data demonstrate that a high-quality, short-duration, remotely delivered population health strategy utilizing a behavioral health intervention can lead to demonstrable benefits in behavioral health, medical health outcomes, and overall cost of care,” the authors conclude. “A scalable intervention of this nature has the potential to reach a wide population of individuals in need. Successful patient engagement and the meaningful behavior change that results are necessary prerequisites to improving medical health and reducing the burgeoning costs of healthcare in the United States.”