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Posts in ‘Telehealth’

Hospitals Look to Telehealth for Strategic Advantage

Apr 30

According to recent data from the American Hospital Association, 42% of US hospitals have telehealth capabilities. The AHA survey probed which types of hospitals are the most likely to implement telehealth and why. The findings have direct implications to vendors and service providers who are trying to prioritize their targeting and marketing strategies.

According to the survey, rates of telehealth adoption are influenced by a variety of strategic considerations. For example, rural hospitals face unique challenges that telehealth can help them to overcome. Additionally rural hospitals have access to federal funds to improve care accessibility, and as a result they may be more likely to provide telehealth than hospitals in some urban areas. Teaching hospitals equipped with advanced medical technology, hospitals that are part of a larger health system and nonprofits also have higher rates of telehealth adoption, possibly because the technology offers a way to deliver a full range of services to patients from any location, increasing access as well as revenue. The study also found that hospitals in more competitive markets may be adopting telehealth as a way to distinguish themselves from their competitors.

One of the key strategic factors influencing the decision to adopt telehealth is state policies. The survey found that policies that promote private payer reimbursement for telehealth are associated with greater likelihood of telehealth adoption, while policies that require out-of-state providers to have a special license to provide telehealth services reduce the likelihood of adoption.

According to a recent forecast by IBISWorld, revenue in the telehealth services industry is expected to increase by an annualized 30% to $320.2 million in the next five years, including revenue growth of 23% in 2014.

As service providers and marketers pursue the hospital segment, they do well to keep in mind that telehealth adoption is shaped by the perceived strategic advantages that telehealth offers hospitals. The marketers most likely to succeed will be those who leverage these insights to create compelling and distinctive marketing strategies.

Telemedicine, a Game Changer for Rural Hospitals

Mar 24

Rural hospitals are the unsung heroes of patient care in the community.  Yet the survival of rural hospitals is now in doubt, in large part because many rural residents are choosing to bypass their local hospital in favor of larger urban hospitals.

Without sufficient patient volume hospitals are unable to generate the revenue they need to stay in business. According to national studies anywhere from 20% to over 50% of rural residents are driving past the nearest hospital and seeking treatment outside of their local community.

While reasons for bypassing local hospitals vary, nearly a third of those surveyed said they chose another facility because they felt that urban hospitals provide a higher quality of care.

Telemedicine has the power to change that perception. Based on experience with the telemedicine program at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, when rural patients know their local hospital is using telemedicine, they have higher regard for that hospital and are less likely to bypass it when looking for treatment.  Telemedicine could be a game changer enhancing the competitiveness and attractiveness of rural hospitals for both patients and medical staff.

In a future edition of this blog, we will discuss the impact telemedicine is having on patient safety and clinical quality.

The Challenge of Rural Health Care

Feb 28

In our last post we discussed why rural hospitals are such a vital lifeline to the communities they serve. Both rural elderly and their caregivers heavily depend upon rural hospitals.

Yet rural hospitals do not have it easy. They face unique challenges due to geographic isolation, recruitment challenges, limited workforce and constrained financial resources. Compounding these issues, rural Americans have lower incomes and tend to have less medical coverage or none at all. They are on average older and less healthy than Americans living in urban areas. Nearly half of rural residents report having at least one major chronic illness.

According to American Hospital Association research, rural hospitals are typically much smaller than their urban and suburban counterparts. Nearly half have 25 or fewer beds. Despite a smaller size and smaller base of patients, rural hospitals still have to maintain a broad range of basic services and purchase much of the same equipment as larger hospitals in order to meet the health care needs of their communities.  Yet with fewer patients over which to spread fixed expenses, the overhead for rural hospitals is higher.

How are rural hospitals meeting the challenge? Telemedicine has become an essential means for rural hospitals to improve the quality of patient care and their own bottom line. The American Telemedicine Association defines telemedicine as  the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status. In a future post we will discuss how telemedicine is transforming healthcare delivery and some of the positive impacts it is having on rural health.

Rural Hospitals, the Unsung Heroes of Eldercare

Jan 31

In a previous post we discussed the challenges faced by rural elderly and their caregivers. Rural patients have to travel long distances to seek care, made more difficult by the fact that many can no longer drive and there is a lack of available or reliable public transportation. These issues contribute to their tendency to delay seeking care, which aggravates health problems and leads to more complicated, lengthy and expensive interventions when they finally do receive medical attention.

Rural communities rely on their hospitals on many levels. In many cases, rural hospitals are the only source for care. Since rural hospitals are often the sole site for patient care in the community, they are also more likely to vital eldercare services that otherwise would not be accessible to residents. For example, many rural hospitals provide hospice, home health services, skilled nursing, adult day care and assisted living. Additionally they many support broader social needs through subsidized programs such as meal deliver services, community health education, rural health clinics and other services. Often rural hospitals step in to offer these services out a sense of community responsibility, as stand-alone providers may have trouble keeps their doors open in low-volume, isolated areas of the country.

Yet despite the fact that rural hospitals are a vital lifeline to both communities and their residents, rural hospitals are facing a barrage of challenges. Future posts will discuss some of these challenges as well as innovative solutions that are helping support and strengthen rural hospitals across the nation.

Using Telehealth to Support Rural Caregivers

Dec 04

The physical, emotional and financial toll to caregivers is extensive. A conservative estimate reports that 20% of family caregivers suffer from depression, twice the rate of the general population. In response, a variety of caregiver support programs have been developed. However, rural caregivers continue to bear much of the burden alone.

Rural caregivers confront unique challenges, above and beyond the normal stresses of caregiving. They spend significant time and funds just traveling to care for their loved one. 60% of rural caregivers drive up to an hour to check on their loved one. Routine medical appointments and referrals to specialists at major hospitals add to the challenge. Outside of major cities, public transportation is often nonexistent or unreliable. According to one study, rural patients travel an average of 22 miles for care.

Geographical and financial obstacles combine with social barriers to further complicate outreach efforts to rural caregivers. Studies show that traditional attitudes can impede outside efforts to provide rural caregivers with needed support. These perceptions may include strong tendencies toward self-reliance, turning to local institutions, neighbors and church community during times of crisis, skepticism and distrust of the intentions and social sensitivity of providers who live outside the immediate area.

However telehealth is proving a promising new method of overcoming isolation, providing caregiver support and improving patient quality of life. In a first of its kind, randomized 12-week clinical trial, rural caregivers who received telehealth-based caregiver training showed lower rates of depression, better  self-care and improvement in their ability to identify and solve specific problems related to caregiving (e.g. responding to disturbing patient behaviors, controlling upsetting thoughts, etc).

The benefits of telehealth go far beyond caregiver support. Telehealth interventions are proving to be a transformative technology for patients, healthcare workers, insures, employers and hospitals, especially in rural areas. In a future edition of this blog, we will discuss the effectiveness of telehealth in reducing medication errors, improving patient outcomes and overcoming many of the unique challenges that rural hospitals face.

Mature Marketing, Caring for the Rural Elderly

Nov 12

Aging has never been easy, but aging in rural America is particularly challenging. According to an analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, seniors in rural areas together with their healthcare providers and family caregivers face greater challenges than their urban counterparts.

In addition to the usual challenges of chronic disease and functional decline, the rural elderly are geographically isolated. They have to travel long distances to seek care, made more difficult by the fact that many can no longer drive and there is a lack of available or reliable public transportation. These issues contribute to their tendency to delay seeking care, which aggravates health problems and leads to more complicated, lengthy and expensive interventions when they finally do receive medical attention. Rural primary care physicians and rural hospitals are struggling to meet the demand.

Fear of medical expense is another deterrent. The elderly in the rurals are more likely to be poor. Lower lifetime earnings result in lower Social Security benefits, which are less likely to be supplemented by private pensions or part-time work. In a study of elderly patients with osteoarthritis, fear of the cost of care was often greater than their concern for the severity of their physical symptoms.

Because long-term care agencies, adult day care and assisted living are more plentiful in cities, family caregivers in the rural areas spend almost 20% more time providing care. With limited access to formal long-term care services, these caregivers often shoulder the responsibility of providing transportation, meals, grocery shopping and hands-on care without support.

Telemedicine is increasingly being considered as a means to increase access to care, lower medical costs and overcome the isolation of the rural elderly and their caregivers. Future editions of this blog will cover the issues, opportunities and latest developments in the fields of telehealth and telemedicine.  We invite you to join the discussion.