Healthcare is an industry built on constant improval, as each year brings new tools and technologies meant to solve the latest medical mystery or clinical challenge. However, for many states and regions in the country, the issue isn’t the care provided, but rather patients’ ability to access services due to geographic and socio-economic challenges.
One state heavily impacted by these “access care gaps” is Mississippi, which ranks as the poorest state in the country and 49th in number of physicians per capita– leading to serious issues with healthcare spending and overall treatment quality.
As a reaction to these issues, the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) devised a new solution: a comprehensive telemedicine program to overcome geographic barriers to care, enabling urban physicians to reach patients in rural areas.
The UMMC team found that telemedicine was especially beneficial for patients requiring specialized care, as a number of individuals lived in areas where these services were not available. According to experts, patients are unlikely to attend specialist appointments if it requires travel to a new practice, so telehealth via their primary physician helps to reduce cancellations and improve treatments delivered.
Perhaps the most impactful part of UMMC’s telehealth program was their integration of remote patient monitoring, a tactic employed to reach individuals in chronic disease populations. By using digital health to optimize medication adherence and diabetes management, UMMC was able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in healthcare costs and ensure quality outcomes.
Taking the Next Step for Physician Practices
For physicians looking to adopt telemedicine tactics to treat rural patients, a logical step would be to participate in a program that reimburses for treating critical “high-risk” populations, such as Chronic Care Management (CCM). In CCM, physicians are compensated for monthly telehealth touchpoints with Medicare patients who have two or more complex chronic conditions, allowing them to gather vital clinical information and prevent costly issues– like hospital readmission or ED visits.
Similar to the UMMC programs, CCM case managers provide tips on medication usage, sign patients up for social services, and even employ tactics such as motivational interviewing to keep individuals happy in healthy in their own homes. While this might seem like a large investment of resources, an increasing amount of practices are choosing to adopt integrated platforms to fit their needs. Instead of hiring additional personnel for CCM, these services employ trained clinical practitioners to contact the patients and then integrate this information directly within the practice’s EHR.
Adopting this model not only allows physicians to make informed clinical decisions between visits, but also drives increased interactions with their own staff (rather than referring patients to other providers). These types of clinical touchpoints will remain pivotal as we move forward with value-based care, and whether used as part of a CCM program or to treat rural populations, telemedicine technology will be key to developing a true patient-centric model.