South Florida Hospital News
Monday August 19, 2019
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July 2019 - Volume 16 - Issue 1

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The Future Is Closer Than You Think

It’s been said the only constant is change, but when it comes to telehealth, change has been taking steroids. Enabled by a healthcare industry looking to better serve patients, protect its bottom line, and desired by an increasingly technology-addicted customer base, delivering clinical services without an in-person visit has gone from barely on the radar to potentially revolutionizing the delivery of care within a generation.

The move from a fee-for-service payment model to value-based healthcare shepherded in the age of telehealth (or telemedicine). Instead of providing episodic care and billing for on-site services, organizations are increasingly entering into contracts where they are compensated based on patient health outcomes that value overall improvements, reduce the effects and incidence of chronic disease, and help individuals live healthier lives. 
 
At Memorial Healthcare System, that has led to a concentration on the “triple aim:” improve the patient experience, reduce per capita costs, and positively impact the health of the communities we serve. Not coincidentally, that is some of what telehealth does best.
 
Our providers are eager to include telemedicine into their approach, whether it’s as basic as patients connecting from their phones to clinicians for treatment recommendations or as complex as a medical assistant making a house call with the equipment to provide an in-depth, virtual clinical evaluation. While any services delivered remotely using electronic communications or software fit under the technology umbrella, it’s my belief we’ll soon take another quantum leap forward.
 
It’s estimated that nearly 80% of Americans use smartphones on a daily basis. Applications found on nearly every device can have powerful implications when integrated strategically into telehealth. If you were to have a stroke in South Broward county, for example, it’s likely your chances of recovery would be significantly improved through a FaceTime-like connection. That’s because EMTs responding to 911 calls now visually connect stroke victims with neurointerventional surgeons, enabling the doctor to make accurate assessments of the situation, real-time recommendations, and preparations in the cath lab for the incoming patient.
 
Handheld devices, however, are just the tip of the technology iceberg. Here’s some of what is already here or can be expected in the not-too-distant future:
• Artificial Intelligence – AI will help humans triage patients and use data to predict what populations are at-risk for specific conditions. It will ask questions and follow-up based on the patient’s feedback.
• Chat bots – Similar to AI with its ability to ask a series of pertinent questions, chat bots will take over the registration process as new patients enter the system.
• Remote Patient Monitoring – Enabling patients to take a more active role in their health program, RPM provides real time clinical data, such as measuring oxygen saturation or weight in cardiac patients, and also assigns tasks for individuals to accomplish, including setting exercise goals and monitoring food intake.
• Hospital at home – Knowing they can reliably monitor patients in their homes, providers will be more comfortable discharging patients after shorter hospital stays.
• Connected devices – Phones, telehealth carts, and suitcases packed with medical equipment will provide greater interoperability, which simplifies and connects platforms by sharing information and increasing efficiencies.
• Asynchronous communications – While much of telehealth is conducted in real time, we’ll also see more communication via secure portals in non-emergency situations. Medical teams may email a list of tasks they want done with patients replying as they are completed.
• 5G mobile technology – Just as currently-available Internet service is faster and more reliable than the dial-up technology of the past, 5G will provide a similar level of improvement.
• Expanded broadband – While not much of an issue in South Florida, rural communities throughout the U.S. will have greater access to cable-type Internet (by mandate of the FCC), connecting areas currently off-the-grid.
 
While reimbursement for healthcare providers employing the latest telehealth strategies remains an issue, it won’t stop progress. That’s because our focus is more on cost savings and cost avoidance, for both patients and providers, and less on revenue generation.

Bill Manzie is Administrative Director of Telehealth Strategy for Memorial Healthcare System and former member of Florida Governor Rick Scott’s Telehealth Advisory Council. He can be reached at (954) 276-1425 or wmanzie@mhs.net.

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