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How Does Telehealth Really Affect Hospital Readmissions?

Hattie Hayes

Written by Hattie Hayes

One of telehealth technology's main benefits is its use in reducing hospital readmissions. A hospital trip is a big expense, for patients and health systems, and avoiding readmission is important for health reasons as well as financial ones. Excessive readmissions can impact Medicare reimbursement rates, and that's no small penalty! In some cases, hospital readmissions are indicative of a complication that could've been treated by a follow-up with a physician. For some conditions, a second stay in a hospital exposes the patient to further infection or disease,which can even be deadly. So, the question remains for clinicians who want to avoid hospital readmission. How does telehealth really impact hospital readmission rates?

One comprehensive study follows five healthcare facilities and multiple conditions treated in the hospital and through telehealth. Readmission rates were decreased across the board, with readmit rates varying depending on the condition. Three of the facilities studied dealt in heart failure; readmission rates for heart failure patients in these cases decreased anywhere from 4% to 7%. The decrease in readmission rates was highest for COPD (19% decrease) and pneumonia (26% decrease). Other studies have seen readmission rates drop 14% over the course of two years, and at one facility overnight stays decreased by 40% thanks to telehealth intervention.

Using telehealth for transitional care not only helps reduce readmission rates, but it makes the follow-up care after the initial visit more effective. At one hospital, telehealth reduced readmission rates for cardiac patients from 25% to 17% over a one-year period. In this study, remote monitoring had its impact on high-risk cardiac patients, who reported feeling more empowered and willing to reach out to their physician resources after using telehealth technology.

The benefits of reducing hospital readmissions are big for health systems. You can greatly reduce your risk of a Medicare penalty simply by implementing telehealth, and actually increase your revenue by up to 4% using telehealth intervention. In recent years, 80% of U.S. hospitals have received readmission penalties, and in 2011 hospitals spent over $40 billion to treat readmitted patients. These numbers aren't ideal, but telehealth is slowly making them a little more reasonable!

Along with readmissions, telehealth limits the need for hospital transfers. Transfers can be jarring and potentially life-threatening to the patient, and expensive for the hospital as well. Assisted living centers and nursing homes also make good use of telemedicine to prevent readmission, which is more dangerous for older patients who have other conditions.

Telehealth isn't a miracle tool--though, it can seem that way. Sometimes readmission rates will plummet thanks to telemedicine, but generally you can expect a slow decrease in readmission rates over a fairly short period. In any case, telehealth has a real and lasting impact on hospital readmissions, which saves time, money, and patient lives in the long run.


How has telehealth impacted hospital readmission rates for your patient base?
Tell us in the comments!

Published: April 6, 2016