As health reform was being debated, many people theorized that hospital volumes would begin to drop as care was delivered at other points along the continuum. Well, it’s not a theory anymore. In fact, the numbers are a bit startling.
Health Management Associates (HMA) and Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), two of the nation’s biggest for-profit hospital chains, just reported big drops in first quarter admissions compared to the same period last year. At HMA, same-facility admissions fell by 8.8 percent. Across the country, both hospital admissions (and readmissions within 30 days) are steadily trending downward
Telemedicine is playing a key role in driving down hospital admissions. A remote stroke specialist can now examine patients in any robot-equipped ED, outpatient facility or ACO clinic. Telemedicine is also the ideal platform for ongoing patient monitoring that prevents unnecessary admissions in the first place – plus preventable readmissions that are now accompanied by hefty fines.
We’re just beginning to realize telemedicine’s true potential in disease prevention. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that a 340-pound patient who doesn’t exercise or make regular primary care visits is a prime candidate for a stroke or heart attack. Telehealth e-visits and follow-ups can go a long way toward eliminating the need for remote stroke consultations down the road.
Though volumes are decreasing, hospitals are still the primary funding resource for telemedicine initiatives across the entire care delivery system. Hospitals will still be the healthcare “hub” of the future because of their on-staff expertise and big IT budgets. But they’re likely to get a little quieter as expert care gets delivered in a variety of new settings.