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Telehealth Services Cut Length of Stay, Improve Patient Satisfaction

 

Patient satisfaction surrounding telehealth services lives on.

The most recent study to support the idea that patients like telemedicine comes from UbiCare, a Boston-based patient engagement company, and a four-hospital U.S. health system. In the unreleased study, the partners reviewed feedback from more than 2,000 patients who received email or text notifications about their care, from diagnosis through recovery, when undergoing total hip or knee replacement surgery. Study findings suggest that telehealth services improved several key surgery metrics.

We at MedTech Boston had the chance to speak with Betsy Weaver, Ed.D., CEO of UbiCare, to learn more about the messages that patients received and the implications of the findings for the broader healthcare system.

“It’s important to have cutting-edge, new ways of connecting with patients and real-time data being collected for you about the experience that patients are having,” Weaver said.

The study measured telehealth services by examining five criteria: same-day cancellations, length of hospital stays, discharge home, use of the emergency department and readmissions.

Researchers saw a 25 percent of a day reduction in length of stay for hip replacement patients and 13 percent of a day reduction for knee replacement patients.

Patients who stayed in the hospital for less time allowed the hospital to be more prepared for discharge, Weaver said. The shorter the stay, the more cost savings and efficiencies achieved by the health system. For instance, when patients leave earlier, hospitals can better accommodate additional patients, she added.

And there was a 50 percent decrease in emergency department visits by hip replacement patients who were highly engaged in the telehealth program, according to the findings. This is particularly important because emergency department visits affect the likelihood of a patient being readmitted — and Medicare and Medicaid dole out penalties for readmission.

Participants in the study chose whether they wanted to receive email or text messages from the surgery team.

Messages provided participants with all necessary instructions and frequently answered patient questions regarding what their procedure would entail before, during and after surgery. The messages gave information about how to prepare a patient’s home, a checklist of what to remember to bring to the hospital on the day of the surgery and responses to the most common patient concerns.

Texts and emails reduced the need for patients to call the administrator, hospital or surgeon, and the messages made patients feel more comfortable and confident about the entire surgery process, Weaver said.

The post-intervention survey for participants revealed that the patients were satisfied with the telehealth services.

The study suggests that it is feasible for a hospital to have ongoing communication with a surgical patient, and this sort of patient engagement can reduce a hospital’s burden because a care plan is already cemented for the patient ahead of time.

“Education, alerts, reminders and notifications sent via email and text do change patient behaviors, resulting in better health outcomes and improved cost metrics for hospitals,” Weaver added.

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