How Telemedicine for Chronic Disease Management is Reducing the Burden on Existing Healthcare Systems

By Dr. Leo P. Langlois, Advisor, Arkenea
Twitter: @Arkenea

Chronic disease management continues to be one of the greatest healthcare challenges for providers across the United States.

One recent study titled ‘An Empirical Study of Chronic Diseases in the United States’ shows that approximately half of all adults in the country have a chronic disease of some sort and, close to 33% of the total population is living with more than one chronic illness.

As chronic diseases continue to overwhelm our health system year after year, providers are now looking at ways they can improve their efforts at chronic disease management in a way that the quality of care being delivered is not negatively impacted.

Telemedicine has surfaced as a powerful solution on this front, especially amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. By leveraging this technology, physicians and patients can easily use mobile devices, mHealth apps, live audio and video, and other smart digital tools to communicate and keep track of the patient’s condition at any given point in time.

Let us look at a few ways in which telemedicine for chronic disease management holds the potential to reduce the burden on existing health systems and improve outcomes as a whole.

1) Telemedicine Increases Access to Specialty Care

A little over 46 million Americans reside in the nation’s rural regions at present.

This means that a lot of patients residing in these areas lack access to healthcare facilities and have to travel long distances just to be able to seek these services.

Now, we all know that patients with chronic diseases largely depend on specialty care when trying to overcome their symptoms and cure their condition. As in the case of patients residing in rural areas, their remote location makes it more arduous for them to consult their healthcare provider on a regular basis.

Telemedicine is increasingly aiding healthcare organizations to provide those in rural regions access to efficient and cost-effective solutions for managing chronic conditions right from the comfort of their homes.

For example, remote patient monitoring (RPM), a type of care delivery system under the wide umbrella of telehealth technology, leverages virtual modes of consultation in conjunction with the internet of medical things (IOMT). By using this type of connected technology solution to transmit patient data to physicians, patients gain more immediate access to specialist care, irrespective of their geographical location.

With telehealth technology, physicians can also monitor the patient’s vital signs remotely. For instance, for a patient suffering with diabetes, digital glucometer machines that record the patient’s blood sugar levels and transmit those readings to their care provider on a regular basis can help in formulating an optimal treatment plan.

In this way, telehealth can streamline healthcare delivery and eliminate the need to travel long distances, making care delivery that much easier for physicians and their patients alike. This state-of-the-art solution also ensures that patients are treated by the right provider in the right setting by facilitating effective peer-to-peer collaboration in the healthcare fraternity.

2) Telemedicine Keeps Patients Invested in their Own Health

Another visible advantage of telemedicine is enhanced patient engagement.

Medication nonadherence for patients with chronic diseases is extremely common, affecting as many as 40%-50% of patients who are prescribed medications for the management of chronic conditions such as hypertension or diabetes. This nonadherence to prescribed treatment is thought to contribute to at least 100,000 preventable deaths and $100 billion in preventable medical costs per year.

In the case of most chronic conditions, physicians need to educate patients on self-management protocols by doing everything from asking them to adopt a healthy lifestyle, and taking prescribed medications on time, to eating healthy food and tracking their own health frequently.

Even then, when left on their own, a few patients still find it difficult, or even troublesome, to follow through on such treatment regimens. Non-adherence to treatment plans only ends up worsening their condition.

Developing a telemedicine app that embeds important features such as health tracking, and maintains a live record of an individual’s diet, exercise as well as medication plans would be a rather uncomplicated way to help patients keep up with their treatment plans. This, in turn, also boosts patient-provider communication and engagement.

Push notifications can easily be tailored to a patient’s specific needs and sent through the app to furnish important reminders for chronically ill patients, further speeding up the recovery process.

One best practice here would be to store all patient data from the app on virtual private servers. This boosts data interoperability across the healthcare organization and increases its accessibility so that the concerned physician can check it at any given point in time, even through a device as basic as their smartphone.

Besides such apps, other telehealth components such as current RPM reports of patient vitals and data from IOMT diagnostics can also help boost patient-provider engagement by having care providers gain better understanding of how treatment is progressing and what changes can be made to improve their patient’s condition.

3) Telemedicine Reduces Hospital Readmissions and Care Costs

Patients with chronic diseases account for more than 81% of all hospital admissions in the US.

As healthcare professionals, we should all agree that if physicians and specialty care providers more closely monitor a chronically ill patient remotely, they can help the patient better manage their condition. This considerably mitigates the risk of them having to be readmitted to a hospital.

Physicians can conveniently leverage telemedicine to do this. With the help of this technology, care providers can ensure patients are following recommended lifestyle changes, answer questions about their medications, and triage new symptoms right away to keep hospital readmission rates as low as possible. This greatly helps mitigate healthcare costs.

For instance, the Southwest Telehealth Resource Center (SWTRC) has a telemedicine program in place to help patients who are suffering from congestive heart failure (CHF). The care facility managed to save approximately $93,000 in a single year by avoiding emergency hospitalizations by using telemedicine and remote monitoring to manage CHF.

Similarly, after implementing a telehealth program in conjunction with remote patient monitoring (RPM), UPMC Health Plan, an insurance provider that covers more than 3 million members in Pennsylvania, saw very few CHF patients being sent to observation units. Participating members had a 71% less probability of having to stay in an observation unit than the members who did not participate in this program.

Therefore, telemedicine can be an effective tool to help mitigate hospital readmissions and escalating costs of care for both healthcare providers and their patients.

All in all, telemedicine can significantly transform chronic disease management and reduce the burden on existing healthcare systems by increasing care access, keeping patients invested in their own health, reducing the chances of a lapse in treatment, and thereby, lowering the hospital readmission rates and the associated costs.

Healthcare providers looking at leveraging this exceptional technological solution should also simultaneously be on the lookout for ways they can augment its functionality with time.

Finally, no technology can replace empathetic human interaction and effective communication, but it has proven to enhance patient outreach during the past year and will continue to do so into the future. Please make sure to check up on and monitor your patients well to maintain healthy relationships by staying in touch with them and up to date with the changing times.