Harvard Business Review
Originally posted 11 Dec 20
Here are two excerpts:
Lesson 2: Digital care is safer during the pandemic.
A patient who’s tested positive for Covid doesn’t have to go see her doctor or go into an urgent care clinic to discuss her symptoms. Doctors and other caregivers who are providing virtual care for hospitalized Covid patients don’t face increased risk of exposure. They also don’t have to put on personal protective equipment, step into the patient’s room, then step outside and take off their PPE. We need those supplies, and telehealth helps us preserve it.
Intermountain Healthcare’s virtual hospital is especially well-suited for Covid patients. It works like this: In a regular hospital, you come into the ER, and we check you out and think you’re probably going to be okay, but you’re sick enough that we want to monitor you. So, we admit you.
With our virtual hospital — which uses a combination of telemedicine, home health, and remote patient monitoring — we send you home with a technology kit that allows us to check how you’re doing. You’ll be cared for by a virtual team, including a hospitalist who monitors your vital signs around the clock and home health nurses who do routine rounding. That’s working really well: Our clinical outcomes are excellent, our satisfaction scores are through the roof, and it’s less expensive. Plus, it frees up the hospital beds and staff we need to treat our sickest Covid patients.
Lesson 4: Digital tools support the direction health care is headed.
Telehealth supports value-based care, in which hospitals and other care providers are paid based on the health outcomes of their patients, not on the amount of care they provide. The result is a greater emphasis on preventive care — which reduces unsustainable health care costs.
Intermountain serves a large population of at-risk, pre-paid consumers, and the more they use telehealth, the easier it is for them to stay healthy — which reduces costs for them and for us. The pandemic has forced payment systems, including the government’s, to keep up by expanding reimbursements for telehealth services.
This is worth emphasizing: If we can deliver care in lower-cost settings, we can reduce the cost of care. Some examples:
- The average cost of a virtual encounter at Intermountain is $367 less than the cost of a visit to an urgent care clinic, physician’s office, or emergency department (ED).
- Our virtual newborn ICU has helped us reduce the number of transports to our large hospitals by 65 a year since 2015. Not counting the clinical and personal benefits, that’s saved $350,000 per year in transportation costs.
- Our internal study of 150 patients in one rural Utah town showed each patient saved an average of $2,000 in driving expenses and lost wages over a year’s time because he or she was able to receive telehealth care close to home. We also avoided pumping 106,460 kilograms of CO2 into the environment — and (per the following point) the town’s 24-bed hospital earned $1.6 million that otherwise would have shifted to a larger hospital in a bigger town.