As baby boomers are reaching retirement age in droves and the number of healthcare providers steadily declines, the relentless demand for increasingly elusive care leads to endless scheduling difficulties — waiting lists become longer, travel distances become farther — spurring patients to cancel or delay checkups, neglecting necessary or preventive care when they need it the most.
Pair that with the fact that older patients are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions that require vigilant ongoing specialized care and follow-up, and it isn’t difficult to see why more patients are neglecting their health until an emergency arises and costly ER visits and hospital readmissions have become one of the most pressing healthcare issues today.
But connected healthcare promises a better way.
The face of readmission
Ann is a 67-year-old retired bookkeeper who is living on her own in rural Connecticut. She has been managing her pre-diabetic condition for a couple of years simply by trying to eat healthier foods and increase her exercise. During the past couple of months, however, her vision has become increasingly blurred and her toes are often numb, leading her to schedule a long-overdue appointment with the closest general practitioner who is located an inconvenient 45 minutes away.
A cursory exam confirms that Ann’s pre-diabetic condition has morphed into Type 2 diabetes. Ann’s doctor suspects she has been a full-blown diabetic longer than a couple of months and may also have developed a serious autoimmune disorder that runs in her family. Recognizing that she needs more specialized care than he can provide, he refers her to a specialist at a clinic located more than 2 hours away in Boston.
Knowing she shouldn’t drive herself to the appointment because of her increasingly blurred vision, Ann reluctantly asks her son who lives in Rhode Island to take the day off of work to drive her to the specialist. Hoping she can manage her condition on her own with minimal medical intervention, she is disappointed when her specialist diagnoses her with two chronic illnesses and recommends ongoing monthly follow-up appointments to keep them at bay.
Ann’s son has a limited amount of vacation time, and she feels guilty asking him to continue taking time away from work. It’s too expensive and unsafe to drive herself. And the bus and train schedules are inconvenient and difficult to manage. She makes it to the first couple of appointments, but as times goes on she continues to cancel, telling herself she’ll reschedule when she really needs to and figures she’ll just manage her conditions on her own.
A year later, Ann’s entire leg suddenly goes numb, causing her to fall in the grocery store. She is rushed to the ER and admitted for a two-day hospital day. Three weeks later she is readmitted when she falls in the shower, this time breaking her hip.
The connected care solution
Ann’s condition was serious when she first visited the general practitioner who diagnosed her with Type 2 diabetes — but it wasn’t dire. Had she kept her monthly appointments and diligently followed her specialist’s recommendations, she would have likely managed it successfully — avoiding the ER and the hospital altogether. She didn’t want to neglect her health — she had every intention of keeping her appointments and doing what she could to maintain it — it simply became too inconvenient.
Unfortunately, Ann’s situation is not unique. But situations like hers can be managed successfully and conveniently, resulting in a better health outcome for the patient as well as a reduced cost to the healthcare system.
Small healthcare clinics and individual practitioners are increasingly becoming connected healthcare facilities, offering patients access to the latest telehealth solutions that many larger healthcare organizations are not yet able to offer due to their complex and slow transition to the use of electronic health records (EHRs).
Connected healthcare facilities enable patients and their providers to communicate virtually — anytime, anywhere, through a variety of healthcare devices that easily connect and interact with mobile devices. Using the latest digital health solutions, providers and patients alike can manage patient records and easily track health updates through monitoring devices that regularly alert providers to new patient health information. This anytime access enables providers to make up-to-the-minute recommendations and diagnoses from afar via video conference, phone, text message and more, while allowing patients to be more active participants in their own care.
Virtual visits eliminate the hassle and cost of travel, allowing patients — particularly those like Ann with chronic conditions that require frequent follow-up appointments — to access care without making any travel arrangements to do so. This enables a more proactive approach to care for all patients, regardless of their location, placing them back where they belong — at the center of their own care.
Patients who are in the driver’s seat managing their own care are more likely to maintain a consistent and open dialogue with their healthcare providers. They are more likely to share health changes that may alert providers to the need for increased or alternative care. And they are more likely to catch – and mitigate — the effects of chronic health conditions that can result in life-threatening and costly ER visits and hospital stays.
Small healthcare clinics and individual practitioners are leading the charge toward increased implementation of telehealth solutions that promise to decrease the number of hospital readmissions and increase care quality for anyone, anytime, anywhere. It’s only a matter of time before larger institutions successfully follow their lead.