Telemedicine’s Ability to Positively Impact Chronic Illness Management
March 2, 2017
Mercy Grand Rapids patient communicates with his nurse via MARTTI (My Accessible Real-Time Trusted Interpreter) in 2016
What does research show is the strongest cause for non-compliance with medical advice, leading to poor quality care, among multi-cultural populations? Is it cultural differences? Is it finances? Is it lack of will? No. These may be factors, but they are not the primary cause. The leading cause is actually something even more basic and human. And with today’s medical technological advancements, very easy to remedy.
The link is communication — or rather a lack of ability to effectively communicate.
According to the most recent U.S. Census, 60 million Americans speak a language other than English in their homes, including ASL (American Sign Language). Over 200 languages are commonly spoken in the US, with Spanish, Vietnamese, French and German and several Chinese languages leading the way. In most cases this is their first and best understood language. This language barrier contributes to poor outcomes among these individuals who often speak English well enough to function in a primarily English-speaking society, but may lack the ability to understand “doctor’s orders”. This is but one of the many healthcare disparities that exist driven by social (Social Determinants of Health or SDoH), economic and geographic differences within our nation. Interestingly enough, it is exactly these type of disparities that are a primary driver of chronic illness.
Free and open communication is, not only the #1 diagnostic tool a provider has in caring for a patient, but it is also the cornerstone of a satisfying patient and provider encounter. In a world of increasing technology and faceless diagnostic testing, it is our words that make us human. They tell the story of our illness (where does it hurt?), help avoid complications (are you allergic to any drugs?) and drive our recovery (take this medicine 3 times per day for 2 weeks).
When patients have chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, COPD, Ulcers and even Cancer, you know, that your ability as a medical professional or administrator to help them is more dependent on what happens outside the clinic or hospital than what happens within.
They need to understand a slew of different factors, including, but not limited to:
- The gravity of the condition.
- Required dietary changes as needed.
- The importance of physical activity.
- How to properly take their medicine.
- When to return for a checkup.
A Better Way
You have undoubtedly heard of “telemedicine” or “telehealth”. You may be excited with the improvements it can bring to healthcare. Or you may have reservations about some of the technologies that are being considered.
Telemedicine allows us to shift the place space relationship that we have grown accustomed to in traditional healthcare.
I view it as a game changer, especially when it comes to population health strategies around chronic conditions. Telemedicine allows us to shift the place space relationship that we have grown accustomed to in traditional healthcare. Patients can now perform their routine checkups from the comfort of their home or office. This prevents the waste of time and costs associated with travel to and from the doctor’s office or missed productivity from your workday.
In a recent study by the Veterans Administration, Telemedicine resulted in an average travel savings of 145 miles and 142 min per visit. This led to an average travel payment savings of $18,555 per year. Telemedicine volume grew significantly over the study period such that by the final year the travel pay savings had increased to $63,804, or about 3.5% of the total travel pay disbursement for that year. Kaiser Permanente recently reported that they are performing a majority of their patient visits virtually.
We define population health at Cloudbreak Health as empowering patients to receive care where, when and how they want it. This becomes even more important for chronic conditions (the treatment of which is the primary driver behind the more well accepted definition of population health) which tend to impact a patients life on a daily basis. The latest remote patient monitoring tools allow you track a wide spectrum of data from your steps, to your heartbeat, to your blood sugar level and beyond. Using your phone, tablet or PC, you can have a video visit with your physician where they can check a wound for infection and monitor your breathing. This ability to increase access at a reduced cost, all while remaining HIPAA compliant, represents a tremendous opportunity for patient and provider alike.
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