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Telemedicine: An Ally in the Fight to Get Your Life Back
By Richard A. Kimball, Jr

When it comes to health care, preventive measures are just as important, if not more so, than curative ones. Telemedicine and remote monitoring are ways in which technology has enabled us to help keep chronic health conditions stable and to provide patients with better quality of life.

In an article in the North Carolina Medical Journal, Kim A. Schwartz and Bonnie Britton describe remote patient monitoring as a way to track the vital signs of patients with chronic diseases. It offers more frequent contact between the patient and the primary care provider, which in turn allows for earlier detection of any potential problems. With remote patient monitoring, primary care providers have access to "real-time alerts, resulting in a proactive, affordable option for best-practice health care."

Ryan McAskill, of RevCycleIntelligence.com, reported that Denise Buxbaum, manager of the nationally recognized heart failure program at Essentia Health St. Mary's-Heart & Vascular Center in Duluth, Minnesota, described how remote monitoring and telehealth have improved overall patient health and met current accountable care demands.

"The benefits of remote monitoring come in two different ways. The first is for the patient health. According to Buxbaum, over the last 12 months, of the 2,300 patients, only 206 have been admitted for heart failure. Of those 206, there were only 32 readmissions (it could be the same patient more than once) and only 10 had 30-day readmission for heart failure," according to McAskill. In his report, he noted that Buxbaum had this to say about the matter: "Patients do better because we are keeping a closer eye on them and preventing them from being readmitted because we are able to get real time results … If they are in trouble, we are calling them right then and there for an assessment, checking on their symptoms, their weight, their diet and right away we can go over it with their provider and get back to the patient, usually within an hour."

What of the other benefits? According to McAskill, those stem from the financial side of the clinic and hospital. "Buxbaum said that without limiting readmissions of heart failure patients, the clinic would be under financial restraints. By keeping high risk patients out of the hospital, the clinic is saving money."

As for the future, according to a report by Katie Wike of Health IT Outcomes, patient monitoring and telemedicine are expected to grow to more than $5 billion in five years (by 2020). "Health Data Management writes disease conditions management is expected to account for half of the telehealth market based on consumer need for customized health care solutions, increased chronic illness among an aging population, and strained health care budgets," according to Wike.

In a press release, Kamran Zamanian, CEO of iData Research said: "The goal of telehealth is to prevent hospital readmission, reduce in-office visits, better manage health of individuals with long-term conditions, and reduce costs for more remote and isolated health care providers."

In Schwartz and Britton's article, they talk about Tamara J., who had "received a diagnosis of diabetes as a young girl, congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy in 2000, and ventricular tachycardia requiring implantation of defibrillator in 2001, and after complications due to the premature delivery of her boys resulted in kidney failure, she received a kidney transplant in 2005." They reported she was "homebound, restricted in her activities, and having trouble caring for her young boys … In July 2008, Tamara was referred to the Patient Provider Telehealth Network by her primary care provider."

As of the writing of Schwartz and Britton's article, Tamara J.'s hemoglobin A1c level has decreased by 20%, her low-density lipoprotein level has decreased by 53%, her blood pressure has decreased by 34%, and her weight has decreased by nearly 5%. "Tamara has had no emergency department visits or hospitalizations since beginning the program in July 2008. She continues to use the remote patient monitoring program, and her patient data are transmitted not only to her primary care physician, but also, as needed, to her renal and cardiology specialists, in Greenville, North Carolina," Schwartz and Britton wrote.

"I have my life back," says Tamara J.

Richard A. Kimball Jr. is a financial executive with proficiency in the health care industry and has experience in investment banking, venture capital, and public policy. He is a fellow in Stanford's Distinguished Careers Institute and building a health care technology startup (HEXL).