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Telemedicine: A Game Changer for Senior Healthcare

Julie Potyraj is the community manager for MHA@GW and MPH@GW, both offered by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. For several years, she served as a community development specialist in Zambia coordinating youth empowerment programs and reproductive health education. She is currently an MPH@GW student focusing on global health and health communications.
While healthcare for retirees once meant repeated trips to the doctor’s office, many are now able to receive high-quality medical services without leaving the comfort of home. And it’s all because of telemedicine.

This high-tech patient care model is quickly gaining traction as a means for lowering costs while improving healthcare quality—particularly among aging populations.

The Benefits of Telemedicine

The objective of telemedicine is to create a distance healthcare experience that mirrors the quality and comprehensiveness of a traditional office visit. Beyond offering convenience for both patients and caregivers, telemedicine has a number of compelling advantages.

Less waiting and faster response
For retirees with health issues—and their caregivers, who are often pressed for time—long waits in physician offices can be excruciating. Telemedicine eliminates waiting room tedium and enables more timely response from health care professionals through email, text message, and other electronic channels.

Lower costs
Many doctors actually charge less for a telehealth consultation than they do for an in-person visit. What's more, telehealth can reduce costs associated with travel and provide easier access to medical care for those living in rural areas.

Providers win, too. For example, physicians are able to consult with more patients in less time. One study determined that telemedicine could collectively save US nursing homes $479 million annually by reducing transportation costs related to in-person physician office visits.

Reduced hospital readmissions
The University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville created a telehealth program that combines real-time data with remote patient monitoring (RPM) for those discharged with heart failure, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a recent heart attack, or a hip or knee replacement. When nurses are alerted to any problems via the monitoring system, they contact the patient by phone or, if needed, make an in-home visit.

Only a year after instituting the program, the facility saw a reduction in its 30-day readmission to about 10%, in contrast with the national average of 17.5%.

Decreased hospitalization rates
In North Carolina, telemedicine is helping aging adults remain in their homes longer through RPM. Patients with diagnoses such as heart failure, COPD, and diabetes were monitored by telemedicine technologies at home in between skilled nursing visits. Both response and intervention times improved dramatically. According to another study, RPM has the potential to prevent between 460,000 and 627,000 heart failure-related hospital readmissions every year.

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