Mileage Study Press Conference Highlights: Karen Thomas on the Importance of Telehealth Services
January 29, 2016 09:52 AM
On December 16, 2015, the Foundation for Hospice and Homecare and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) held a press conference (see previous NAHC Report article here) to present the findings of a study documenting that nurses, therapists and home care aides who serve chronically ill, elderly and disabled patients drive nearly 8 billion miles each year. The press conference included remarks from a number of experts in the home care and hospice community, and NAHC Report is publishing a series of articles providing in-depth coverage of their remarks.
Karen Thomas is the President of Oxford HealthCare in Springfield, Missouri. NAHC President Val J. Halamandaris introduced Ms. Thomas, saying she would discuss “the importance of telehealth and other technologies,” as well as the challenges presented by the fact that agencies are not reimbursed by Medicare for telehealth.
Ms. Thomas explained that telehealth is becoming increasingly important as more and more people are receiving care outside of “the traditional walls” of the hospital and skilled nursing facilities. Instead, patients are receiving care in their homes, “where they want to be,” and where they can receive care that is “less expensive” and “very effective.”
With the challenges of an aging population, along with a shortage of nurses to care for them, one of the ways to provide needed care is through telehealth. “Remote patient monitoring,” she said, “is the service of providing a device in the home which enables us to gather all the biometric readings. It enables for questions regarding symptoms to be answered… and allows us to care for that person and understand what’s going on with that patient.”
Telehealth also allows agencies to better care for patients with chronic illnesses. For example, she said, agencies can use telehealth to care for patients with diabetes by “monitoring their glucose on a daily basis, sometimes up to four times a day, and educating that person how to care for themselves, what they can do differently, and why they’re having issues.” Telehealth “allows us to coordinate the care for all of the providers and we’re able to provide information to any primary care physician they might have, a nurse practitioner and any specialist.” She added, “We have the tools and equipment to care for people who are chronically ill and reduce the need for acute care, which is much more expensive.”
Telehealth also allows agencies to develop meaningful and effective connections with patients. “There is a great touch. Even though it’s technology, we’re still touching that patient,” she said. “We are utilizing our nurses to their greatest extent, sending them to the home when we need them. We’re able to care for more patients by gathering that data, effectively watching what’s going on, and educating that patient because, always remember, the patients need to be involved, and by them understanding what they need to do, it helps us take care of them.”
At the same time, Ms. Thomas explained that the lack of Medicare reimbursement for telehealth is problematic. “As Val mentioned, at this point, agencies are not reimbursed for any of the hardware equipment they need to purchase, the software that goes along with it, whether that’s video or non-video,” she said. “That’s one thing we would like to see changed as we go forward so we can deal proactively with [these challenges].”
To view the final study, click here.
Video footage of the press conference is currently available on the NAHC website (www.nahc.org).