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Telemedicine Is Proving Its ROI in Rural Communities

Two studies see communities and hospitals recouping travel and other costs through telehealth tech.

A pair of reports released in March are touting the positive economic impact telemedicine programs can have on healthcare organizations’ bottom lines.

The NTCA Rural Broadband Association’s “Anticipating Economic Returns on Rural Telehealth” report found that, annually, hospitals could save more than $81,000 in states such as Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, while the rural communities in these states could save an average of $41,000 by using telemedicine technologies in lieu of traveling.

By accessing physicians through telehealth technology, those in rural communities can save big on travel expenses — an average of $24,000 — and lost wages — an average of $16,769 — associated with taking time off work to travel long distances to qualified physicians.

Already, states are implementing new regulations that make telepsychiatry available to folks in rural communities.

Keeping Care in the Community

Meanwhile, by implementing telehealth programs, hospitals stand to save on hiring new physicians and boost earnings through procedures, such as MRIs and CT scans, as patients are able to stay local to reach experts.

“These are expenditures that, in the absence of telemedicine, likely would go outside of the local community. When telemedicine is available locally, these expenditures tend to remain in the local economy,” the report notes.

Moreover, with care sometimes hundreds of miles away, the technology can allow rural communities to access care more quickly than they normally would have, saving lives.

“Very often, by the time a patient shows up in our waiting room, it’s too late to reverse the long-term course of their illness,” Jennifer Dittes, PA-C, founder and CEO of HOPE Family Health, a federally qualified health center in rural Macon County, Tenn., says in the report. "Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and substance abuse are all killers in our rural community, where the life expectancy is almost 20 years shorter than the national average due to poverty, other socioeconomic disparities, and lack of access to preventive, primary, behavioral and specialty care.”

A similar report published in Value in Health Journal seems to back up these findings. In a study of the University of California Davis Health System, telemedicine visits saved upwards of 11,000 patients a total of 9 years of time and $2.8 million in travel costs. The average cost saving was $156 per patient. The study goes a step further, noting that telemedicine visits had a positive impact on the environment as well, keeping car emissions out of the atmosphere.

“I believe that telemedicine not only results in equivalent health care for patients in remote areas but better care, particularly for those with complex medical conditions,” principal investigator James Marcin said in a statement, MobiHealthNews reports. “Our goal of telemedicine is not to save the health care system money but to improve patient care, and I believe it does this.”

Jevtic/iStock/Thinkstock
Mar 30 2017

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