New research suggests there’s one more reason for hospitals to provide telehealth — it could reduce readmissions. 

Many hospital execs have held off on telehealth to weigh the pros and cons of providing care remotely through video conferencing and other communication tools. They’ve largely been concerned that, beyond convenience for patients, there may not be much clinical benefit to telehealth to offset the cost.

But a new study published in the American Journal of Managed Care and conducted by Aetna and AbilTo, a telehealth provider, shows that a behavioral telehealth management program had a positive impact on cardiac patients’ care, reduced the number of admissions and readmissions, and lowered treatment costs. 

Remote care

Researchers looked at 400 patients with cardiac conditions and split them into two groups: one that participated in a two-month behavioral health program and one that didn’t.

As the study notes, many medical conditions, like cardiovascular disease, can often take an emotional toll on patients and lead to behavioral health issues, like depression or anxiety. These behavioral issues can then negatively impact patients’ recovery.

The program consisted of 16 phone or video sessions where providers and social workers provided patients with psychological support and gauged their progress and mental health. Researchers then tracked hospital admissions and length of stays for six months after the first consultation, and compared the numbers with the control group.

Program perks

The study results confirmed the telehealth program had a positive effect on patients’ health and hospital operations.

Researchers found patients that went through the program scored lower for depression, anxiety and stress than the other group. Additionally, over the following six-month period, patients who participated had:

  • 38% fewer hospital admissions, and
  • 31% fewer readmissions.

Even when patients were admitted to the hospital, program participants were less likely to be admitted more than once and, on average, spent 63% fewer days in inpatient care.

Since the program reduced the number of admissions related to patients’ heart conditions, it also helped reduce costs. Researchers found that the savings from the program offset its costs within six months.

And as an added perk, the program also bolstered patients’ engagement with their care, an important criteria for providers trying to earn meaningful use incentives.

Planning accordingly

As the research shows there can be considerable benefits for hospitals to strategically use telehealth programs to improve care, bolster engagement and reduce costs for treating patients with chronic diseases.

This is good news for hospitals, especially because the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently began covering some telehealth services and chronic care management for patients with two or more chronic conditions. This gives hospitals extra incentive to consider leveraging telehealth more often in their operations.

However, regardless of whether your facility wants to meet CMS reimbursement requirements or just wants to improve patient care, it’s important for hospital leaders to plan how telehealth can best be implemented with your operations.

You’ll want to consider which patients could benefit the most from telehealth services, and how telehealth can be used to improve their care or quality of life. You’ll also want to investigate whether patients have the proper technology to receive telehealth services.

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