The County Voice

Telehealth – Expanding Access, Lowering Costs, Improving Care

Telehealth – or the delivery of health care information and services through communications technologies like high-speed internet (also known as broadband) – can expand access to care, improve the quality of care and reduce costs. These benefits may be appealing to counties responsible for delivering public health services. 

Telehealth services can range from teleconferencing between patients and providers to advanced, high-quality online voice and video interactions with a patient’s electronic health record.  These virtual appointments enable healthcare providers and patients to interact with each other remotely. 

Hospitals increasingly are turning to telehealth as a tool to increase patient access to care, manage care better and lower health care costs.  According to a January 2015 Trendwatch report by the American Hospital Association, there are three primary ways hospitals are using telehealth technology:

  1. Access and convenience for rural patients,
  2. Improved quality and patient satisfaction,
  3. Access to specialty care.

Expansion of access to care is one key benefit that telehealth applications are bringing to healthcare delivery.  An example of expanded access can be found in connecting patients in rural areas to specialists otherwise unavailable without long distance travel.

UC Davis uses telehealth services to provide direct clinical care to patients remotely, giving clinics and hospitals throughout the state of California access to more than 40 medical specialties not readily available in many smaller communities. Telehealth applications can be especially beneficial for burn victims, easing the stress of extensive ongoing care and reducing the need for long travel distances. Operation Mend, a partnership between UCLA Health, Brooke Army Medical Center, a burn and rehab hospital in San Antonio, and the Veterans Administration Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System uses telehealth in the ongoing care for severely burned soldiers, who often must undergo dozens of surgeries.

Another example of expanded access to care relates to behavior health services.  With a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists, telehealth can help expand access to needed behavioral services, reduce demand on emergency departments, and possibly save counties money by reducing costs.  

At one California hospital serving a large rural area, the California Telehealth Network estimates that the value of each follow-up consultation conducted online saves patients $300 by eliminating transportation costs and counting wages that would be lost due to time off. That leave more dollars in consumers’ pockets to spend.  It also saves time. In a single year, those same patients saved up to 288,000 miles driven to a single hospital. Imagine the combined impact of online consultations across all 345 hospitals in the state.

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