‘You can’t really bill for that; it’s part of patient outcome’
URBANDALE, Iowa – UnityPoint at Home has found that by expanding its telehealth offerings to include a robust remote patient monitoring program, the likelihood of readmission for many of its patients has been reduced.
“With telehealth, we can reduce visits per episode, and we have extended their stay at home,” said Vicki Wildman, the telehealth manager at UnityPoint at Home, which has 11 locations that serve Iowa and Illinois. “Without it, some patients are at risk by day five or seven for readmission, but with telehealth they are staying home longer or not going back at all.”
UnityPoint at Home began using telehealth back in 2000, but it was used on a much smaller scale and was more episodic in nature. Since then, the agency has begun slowly rolling out a comprehensive remote patient monitoring program—it served more than 1,500 patients in 2015, making it one of the provider’s larger programs.
As part of the program, patients are equipped in their homes with a Bluetooth tablet, a wireless blood pressure cuff, pulse oximeter and a scale to take their vital signs each day. The equipment is pre-programmed for each patient and shipped directly to their home. Patients use the kits for an average of 45 days.
The information gathered from the devices is uploaded to the cloud, where a UnityPoint at Home nurse can take a look and assess the patient’s condition, providing education and other care while coordinating with his or her physician.
“The technology is cloud-based, web-based, and real time,” Wildman said. “It’s really changing the space. It’s amazing to me where we began and where we are now.”
The majority of patients in the program are senior citizens who have recently been treated in the hospital for heart failure, stroke or a chronic condition.
While reimbursement for the program is a challenge, UnityPoint at Home takes the long-range view.
“Reimbursement is not as strong as we’d like to see, but we are starting to see some movement in the Midwest,” Wildman said. “The capital investment is significant, as well. You can’t really bill for that; it’s part of patient outcome.”