Telehealth has the potential to save the Mississippi health system as much as $189 million annually for diabetes management.
That’s the chief takeaway University of Mississippi Medical Center telehealth director Michael Adcock told attendees yesterday at the Digital, Personal Connected Health symposium at HIMSS 2017 in Orlando.
Telehealth is needed in Mississippi—currently 53 of Mississippi’s 82 counties are more than a 40-minute drive from specialty care, Adcock says. Mississippi has a big, rural population that is largely lower income. “60% of Mississippians live in rural areas and 37% live in medically underserved areas,” he says.
Telehealth has proven effective in treating patients for conditions such as diabetes. The University of Mississippi Medical Center has an established telehealth program that has served more than 500,000 patients since 2003. The center’s telehealth program includes more than 2,000 providers and 35 specialties.
Adcock says telehealth has delivered significant results in Mississippi. A recent study of 100 diabetes patients reveals that telehealth revealed a return on investment that included savings of about $340,000 in unnecessary returns to the emergency room or extended hospital stays. If that figure is extended to all diabetes patient in Missississpi the annual savings would be about $189 million in preventable hospitals visits, Adcock says.
“Telehealth lowers costs, enables care for more patients within existing facilities and extend access to wider populations,” he says.
Services being replicated from the University of Mississippi Medical Center diabetes telehealth network model include scheduled live video health sessions and coaching on diet, exercise and adherence to medications. Diabetes Telehealth Network patients also took and reported their own vital signs. If they failed to check in each day or their vitals weren’t in a healthy range, a health practitioner would contact them, Adcock says.
Preliminary data from the diabetes patients using telehealth to manage their diabetes shows 96% took their medications as directed and 83% kept their scheduled telehealth appointments. The data also showed that the patients’ average hemoglobin level dropped, bringing them closer to the normal range for those without diabetes, Adcock says.
Not one patient was hospitalized or visited an emergency room because of complications from diabetes. And, providers found nine cases of diabetic retinopathy that might otherwise have gone undiagnosed. Many avoided sugary desserts because they knew their telehealth caregiver would pick up on it through their vital signs. Patients reduced their driving by an estimated more than 9,000 miles, as they no longer needed to drive to see specialists in Jackson or those across state lines, Adcock says.
“A lot of our patients hadn’t touched technology before the diabetes telehealth network and many didn’t have internet,” Adcock says. “But once they found out how easy it was and how useful the information is, they embraced it.”