Don’t Forget the “Why” When Mulling Telehealth Initiatives

| URAC Staff
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There’s no denying that defining the how and the when are of great importance when a healthcare network explores telehealth as a new strategic tool. However, too often the why is overlooked in the enthusiastic charge forward, says Michael Adcock, executive director, Center for Telehealth at The University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), a national leader in telehealth.

Adcock will present a session, “UMMC Center for Telehealth: A Model for Delivering High-Quality Healthcare to Rural and Underserved Areas,” at the Telemed Leadership Forum 2019, April 3-5 in Washington, DC.

“I see this with new institutions, health systems, and providers that are wanting to get into telehealth,” he said. “Sometimes they look at it as, ‘Oh there's this piece of technology that I can use, let me figure out how to use it,’” instead of carefully assessing their true needs. For Adcock, the why was easy to articulate in his region. Mississippi is one of the poorer states in the country, he pointed out. “We're one of the most rural states, we have a high disease burden, we have a low physician-to-patient ratio, we don't have enough providers for our patients.”

As Adcock told The URAC Report, “We don't have a choice [in Mississippi], we don't have the physicians available, the providers available to deliver the care under traditional means. We have no choice but to deliver [healthcare] this way.”

Widely recognized as a leading telehealth expert and nationwide advocate, Adcock testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies last May about its importance. “Telehealth has been a part of the healthcare landscape in Mississippi for over 13 years, beginning with an aggressive program to address mortality in rural emergency departments.”  

However, for others it remains all too easy to become fixated on the technology’s capabilities, he warned. Instead, new market entrants should be able to ensure they understand the current and future needs of its patient population. “Look at the reasons” for turning to telehealth,” he stressed. “The technology's there to deliver any kind of care that you want to deliver,” Adcock said. “You've just got to figure out which one's right depending on why you're doing what you're doing.”

Necessity has certainly been one of the drivers inspiring Mississippi to lead the way with strategically sound telehealth applications. For example, UMMC partnered with regional high-speed wireless provider C Spire to launch a pilot program in 2014 that brought remote patient monitoring to those living with Type II diabetes and other chronic conditions in the Mississippi Delta.

The UMMC pilot program showed that remote patient monitoring improves outcomes and reduces costs. “Indeed, participants saw a 1.7 percent reduction in A1C (an indicator of blood sugar level),” wrote U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, in a July column in The Clarion-Ledger.   

 “That may not sound like a lot, but studies show that a reduction in A1C of just one percent has been known to reduce cardiovascular death by 45 percent,” Wicker and Carr wrote. Programs like remote patient monitoring could reduce costly readmission rates to the emergency room and decrease Medicare penalties to rural hospitals, say the federal advocates.

The results are compelling. The 100-person Mississippi pilot resulted in a net $678,000 in annual savings by reducing hospital readmissions, according to Senator Wicker and Commissioner Carr.  Applying the model further, they wrote, “If just 20 percent of the state’s diabetic population were to enroll in this type of remote patient monitoring, Medicaid savings for Mississippi could be $189 million per year.” 

Those positive results in Mississippi have not gone unnoticed. Earlier this month the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to establish a new $100 million “Connected Care Pilot Program” to support telehealth for low-income Americans, especially those living in rural areas and veterans. “It wasn’t our program,” Adcock said. “But it was certainly based on the one that we’ve done.”

As a passionate believer in the healing power of telehealth, Adcock is encouraged to see that the FCC is working to help fund projects that “either extend the work we’re doing or replicate it in different areas.”

He’s looking forward to addressing the Telemed Leadership Forum audience with a clear goal in mind. “I’m going to talk about where we’ve been, where we’re going, and most importantly, why we’ve done what we’ve done.”

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