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VA Telemedicine Program Improves Patient Outcomes, Study Finds

August 23, 2018

A telemedicine program implemented at 23 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals in Virginia has decreased the number of patients transferred to other intensive care units (ICUs) at larger VA hospitals.

The VA conducted a telemedicine program in 52 ICUs in 23 acute care hospitals in nine states from 2011 to 2014. Researchers from the American College of Chest Physicians studied the relationship between the introduction of telemedicine and the number of patients requiring transfer to larger ICU facilities.

The study, published in CHEST Journal in June, noted patients with illnesses ranging from moderate to severe were given access to tele-ICU caregivers, or “intensivists,” who remotely “serve[d] as a second set of eyes, ears, and brains [and] provide[d] the highest level of critical care expertise and guidance to these remote facilities in rural settings,” MedPageToday reported.

The study found transfers decreased from 3.46 percent to 1.99 percent (a 42.5 percent improvement) in telemedicine hospitals and from 2.03 percent to 1.68 percent (a 17.2 percent improvement) in non-telemedicine facilities after telemedicine implementation.

Sees Great Potential

Matthew Glans, a senior policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, says telemedicine can revolutionize the health care industry and expand access in underserved areas.

“Telemedicine has the potential to dramatically lower the costs of providing health care while increasing access to care for thousands of patients, because one of the main benefits of telemedicine is its ability to provide care to areas that are currently medically underserved or rural,” Glans said. “It’s a safe method of providing care that has existed at a basic level for years. Recently, the technology has advanced to the point where diagnosis and analysis and prescribed treatment can be done remotely.

“These services cannot replace all brick-and-mortar medical care, but they can provide many of the basic services that comprise the bulk of preventative care,” Glans said.

Sees Increasing Public Acceptance

Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association, says the VA’s telemedicine efforts are a prime example of how a health care provider can use telemedicine technology effectively to offer the best possible care to patients.

“The VA has long been a leader in telehealth application and innovation,” Morgan said. “The closed system allows them to fully utilize telehealth to expand specialty care and provide teleconsultation among providers throughout the system. They are a really good model for how we should be deploying telehealth throughout the United States. Their study further proves how telehealth benefits patients and is a safe and effective tool for providers.

“Because of successes like this, public acceptance of telehealth has greatly expanded over the years,” Morgan said.

Regulations in the Way

Glans says government regulations are inhibiting the growth of telemedicine.

The main barriers preventing telemedicine from expanding further in many states have to do with government regulation and the inability of the current system to properly reimburse doctors providing telemedicine services,” Glans said. “Strict licensing standards have become a significant barrier to entry in the health care industry. In many instances, states control licensing standards, professional discipline, and the various costs associated with those licenses. They also refuse to require equal reimbursement for telehealth services, which makes many providers reluctant to establish new telehealth clinics.”

 

Ashley Pappas (apappas.heartland@gmail.com) writes from Chicago, Illinois.

 

INTERNET INFO:

“VA Telemedicine Cut Hospital Transfers for ICU Patients,” MedPage Today, June 18, 2018:

https://www.medpagetoday.com/criticalcare/generalcriticalcare/73562

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