Intermountain study shows telehealth’s clinical and financial effectiveness

Intermountain Healthcare released a study last week on the clinical effectiveness of using telehealth for physical therapy (PT) after hip surgery. The study found that telehealth is just as clinically effective as in-person care and it costs less to administer. 

 

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The study, which took place pre-COVID-19, split patients into three groups. Group 1 did mostly telehealth PT with physical therapy clinicians, Group 2 did in-person PT with the same clinicians as Group 1 and Group 3 did in-person PT with different clinicians than Group 1 and 2. Group 1 self-reported the same quality outcomes as the other groups, but saved over $500 more than Group 2 and over $800 more than Group 3. 

Dr. William Beninati, pulmonary disease doctor at Intermountain Healthcare said:

“[Telehealth is] clinically effective and much less expensive which I think is the story that we are trying to develop with telehealth across the board.”

According to Beninati, this study confirmed what Intermountain has long believed about the effectiveness and future of telehealth. Intermountain has been working on implementing more telehealth programs into their primary care and hospital environments for the last six years. 

According to Beninati, telehealth growth was accelerating before the pandemic at a rate of about 40% per year. 

“The more evidence we find to support [telehealth], the more we can accelerate the growth of our programs. So we welcome this study because it was one more data point to tell us that we are going in the right direction.”

An example of such a program is the Tele-Crisis Program. Beninati said this program brings experts to evaluate mental health crisis patients in an emergency department setting via teleconference where those experts normally wouldn’t be. 

According to Beninati, the program prevents those who do not need in-patient treatment from being admitted to the hospital, which saves money for the hospital, prevents capacity concerns and prevents wrongful admission. 

Beninati said other programs like this exist in many silos of health care where experts can teleconference into a general health care space to give the best care to the patient. These programs save clinics money, since they don’t have to hire experts who might be underutilized. 

According to Beninati, more than 30 hospitals can all share a group of experts hired by the health system in times when that expertise is needed. These experts can work from home, which can save costs on maintaining and operating a specialized clinic. 

“Not only are we adding higher level expertise, but we’re doing it in an efficient way.”

Beninati said as the pandemic ends, the expansion rate of telehealth programs will continue to rise. Intermountain wants to invest in simple telehealth systems that extend access to experts no matter where the patient is. 

“We value simple, robust systems that have a limited feature set versus complex systems that have a lot of additional features at the expense of cost and reliability.”

Beninati said Intermountain’ s next expansion project will focus on broadband access in rural Utah and the training of clinical leaders in telehealth fluency. Providing this resource will allow the clinician to decide if in-person or telehealth is right for their patient.