If you want a difficult task, try securing a free parking spot at a suburban mall on a Saturday morning. If you want a bigger challenge, try to balance the ballooning entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid in America.
Unsustainable future spending, an aggressively growing national debt and a steadily aging boomer population forecast tough decisions that appear grim to many.
How will health care be delivered in the next decade? Technology continues to evolve and will play an increased role in health care. But to what extent and how can it make it better? One area that has shown promise is by delivering care in rural areas via telemedicine.
In today’s column, I appeal to all the Christopher Lloyd fans out there (you know who you are) in an attempt to take health reform back to the future…
Why this issue is important?
Health information technology is the fastest growing segment of the $1 trillion global health care market, and remote patient monitoring technology has already become a key piece in this development. Patient monitoring uses devices and software that enable health care providers and educators to diagnose, consult with, monitor, treat, follow up and educate patients remotely.
Effective use of remote monitoring can not only provide quality care to patients in rural areas, it also has the capability to reduce hospital readmissions for certain health conditions – an area of particular interest to hospitals as Medicare payments will be reduced for certain readmissions beginning in 2014.
Health economists predict changes to the delivery system will focus more on outpatient care and home monitoring by electronics and mid-levels.
Intensive care is expected to be the sole focus of more and more hospitals, because previously admitted patients can be handled as outpatients or online.
Some outpatients with chronic diseases are better managed at home, so such paradigm shifts will require both a new reimbursement structure and innovative ways to provide care.
Will it work?
Many experts believe remote health monitoring, once fully implemented, can provide significant savings for the health care system, particularly for a State Medicaid program through prevention of avoidable hospital readmissions and management of chronic diseases.
Also, at the federal level, 20 percent of hospitalized Medicare patients are readmitted within 30 days, according to a 2009 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, costing taxpayers approximately $17 billion a year. In half of these cases, patients haven’t seen a doctor between stays, which indicates the need for more efficient ways to follow patients.
With regard to chronic disease, the three most prevalent (heart disease, diabetes and obesity) contribute to a significant amount of total health care costs. Remote health monitoring has the ability to manage these diseases at home through non-invasive and user friendly devices electronically connected to providers.
How will it impact you?
Many states face future budget shortfalls, and as the budget debate intensifies with the approach of the 2012 election, programs like this and others in telehealth could provide a common sense solution and generate long term savings for state and federal entitlement programs.
Remember that famous pie chart graph that politicians always like to refer to during debate? Does anyone want to take a guess what happens when they are able to find dollars that aren’t being spent efficiently?
Yep, that’s right, when lawmakers are able to find savings in entitlement programs and others with low hanging fruit, it generally means more money for roads, education and defense, which is something I think we can all support.
Coming up with new and creative ways to control costs will be paramount for policymakers in the upcoming decade. Telemedicine may not be the savior of our fragmented health care system, but utilizing the benefits it does provide, could help us take the most important first step towards fiscal responsibility.