The Center for Connected Health Policy defines telehealth as “a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health, and education services. Telehealth is not a specific service, but a collection of means to enhance care and education delivery.”
The Health Resources Services Administration, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, further defines telehealth as “the use of technology to deliver healthcare, health information, or health education at a distance. Common applications include tele-radiology, in which test results are forwarded to another facility for diagnosis; continuing professional education, including presentations by specialists to general practitioners; and home monitoring, a supplement to home visits from nursing professionals.”
Telehealth is different from telemedicine because it refers to a broader scope of remote healthcare services than telemedicine. Generally, telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, while telehealth not only includes remote clinical services, but also many other aspect of the patient’s healthcare experience.
Regardless of the term used, remote patient care technology – or telemonitoring – has jettisoned to the forefront as an option for reducing corporate healthcare costs. However, the use of telemonitoring in U.S. businesses – while gaining in popularity – is still not widespread. A 2015 Towers Watson analysis found that just 22% of the 379 large U.S. employers surveyed were offering telemonitoring as an employee benefit, although that number is expected to hit 90% by the end of this decade.
Will Employees Adopt Telemonitoring?
In general, telemonitoring occurs in two ways. First, an employee can be enrolled in a chronic disease management program for a condition such as diabetes. Using remote patient monitoring technology, the patient’s healthcare data is regularly sent to a specially trained nurse, whose job it is to monitor the data for early warning signs – such as a spike in blood glucose levels. Using video streaming or telephone, the nurse consults with the patient to take corrective action, when necessary, while also coordinating communications with the patient’s care team in an effort to prevent a trip to the E.R. or hospital.
Second, the nurse can provide regular and ongoing information to the patient’s primary care physician and specialists, as needed, to discuss the patient’s health status and ongoing plan of care. In either case, the goal is to keep the employee out of the emergency room and out of the hospital through early intervention. The cost of providing such a telemonitoring program is far less than the costs associated with E.R. visits and hospitalizations.
Although telemonitoring makes good sense – both financially and in terms of employee well-being – the question remains whether employees will adopt telemonitoring en masse. If a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey is to be believed, then the answer is yes. In that study, 60% of consumers said they would be willing to have a video visit with a clinical professional through a mobile device, and 32% of consumers reported having at least one medical, health, or fitness app on their mobile devices – a doubling from 16% just two years earlier.
How to Get Started with Telemonitoring
With so many consumers willing to adopt telemonitoring, and with the documented benefits telemonitoring provides, including such a program in your health plan design makes good sense. For employees who qualify for group health insurance, a telemonitoring program can be bundled into your group health insurance coverage or offered as a voluntary benefit. For part-time or seasonal employees who do not qualify for benefits, telemonitoring can still be offered as a voluntary program, using a monthly subscription model.
Making telemonitoring available to all employees is important, because the company’s ability to reduce overall healthcare costs and absenteeism, while also improving employee productivity, is only as strong as the number of employees using the service. Employees are ready to embrace the technology, however. According to a global survey conducted by Cisco, “while consumers still depend heavily on in-person medical treatments, given a choice between virtual access to care and human contact, three quarters of patients and citizens would choose access to care and are comfortable with the use of technology for the clinician interaction.”
That’s not all. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers survey published by ModernMedicine Network, 50% of consumers are willing to seek healthcare through the Internet or other computer technology, rather than via face-to-face visits. Clearly, the time for telemonitoring is now.
About Karen Thomas
Karen Thomas is a certified management accountant and the president of Advanced TeleHealth Solutions, one of the leading telehealth monitoring companies in the U.S. Karen is a nationally renowned speaker, a lecturer for Missouri State University’s graduate-level Health Care Administration program, and a contributing author to, “Home Telehealth: Connecting Care Within the Community,” published by Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd. Karen has appeared on numerous webinars and has spoken at dozens of conferences on the benefits of remote patient monitoring, generating enhanced clinical outcomes, patient engagement, and coordination of care. She is a member of the Missouri Governors Innovation Task Force, a past board member of the National Association for Home Care and Private Duty Home Care Association, a member of the American Telemedicine Association and the American Society on Aging, and a past ex-officio member of the advisory board of HealthCare Technology Association of America.