Chronic care is the leading cause of both death and healthcare costs in the US. And it’s not even a contest. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer account for 7 out of 10 deaths in the US and make up more than 75% of the money spent on public and private healthcare.

What makes these chronic conditions so costly and fatal is the fact that they are constant. Management of symptoms, treatments for flare ups, and emergency care can be needed around the clock. And unfortunately, these conditions don’t slow down even in the midst of a global pandemic. Patients still require this round the clock care from a healthcare industry that is notably more stressed, stretched thin, and, in many cases, unable to meet in person. 

The question then becomes one centered around more mobile chronic care solutions. How can programs for chronic care management be leveraged to their fullest potential, ensuring these patients are receiving the care they need uncompromised by the goings on of the world at large? Can technology like telehealth and the use of medical computers and tablets maintain, or even improve the level of care that these patients currently receive? Before asking that, we first also need to consider whether or not telehealth for chronic care management is even viable in the first place. 

What is Chronic Care Management and the Risks Involved?

Like we mentioned earlier, chronic care refers to the treatment of illnesses that are either pre-existing or long-term. These treatments can deal with everything ranging from asthma, diabetes, cancer, and hypertension to emphysema, bronchitis, and even depression.

If not treated, these conditions can quickly deteriorate further into what is then formally referred to as a “disability” which essentially means the condition actively makes interacting with the world around a patient much more difficult. In an effort to prevent this, chronic care as a science focuses on treating symptoms and keeping them in remission in order to either prevent disability or help patients live with their disability making as little impact as possible on their quality of life. 

It’s easy to see how this kind of intensive care can be difficult to perform remotely. When such real-time care and communication can be necessary at a moment’s notice, latency, connectivity, and other issues can be prohibitive. Financially, incorporating telehealth chronic care solutions can also be expensive, leading many to question whether telehealth for chronic care management is actually viable. 

Is Telehealth for Chronic Care Management Viable?

There are a few dimensions to consider when determining just how viable telehealth for chronic care management can be. Like mentioned earlier, there needs to be demand on the patient’s side of the equation. Furthermore, providers need to see the value in investing in the requisite technology. And finally, if both demand and finances are available, there needs to be effective applications of these remote chronic care solutions.

The Need is There

To provide a short answer to the question of whether or not there is demand, yes, there seems to be demand for more remote chronic care solutions. This is at least according to an aggregation of studies and surveys conducted by the CDC, Fight Chronic Disease, and several other reputable sources. 

According to these studies, 75% of patients new to telehealth were interested in seeing their care providers virtually as opposed to in-person. A staggering 96% of these patients even commented that they believed mobile health apps would help improve their quality of care and management of symptoms. 

Is the Money There?

Naturally, when it comes to adapting the use of telehealth for chronic care management, many facilities need to consider how many patients they have that require chronic care. It’s one thing if it’s proven to be effective, but if a facility has a comparatively small group of patients that require chronic care, will investments in new tech truly be worthwhile? 

Dr. Tinu Tadese, vice president of clinical informatics at Lake Health System, explained it best in a recent interview when they said “It’s not that the systems aren’t there, but everyone is slow to embrace it because they’re pretty costly.”

So, then, are providers more interested to invest in telehealth applications now? What’s changed? Well, everything. 2020 has illustrated, to an alarming degree, just how essential telehealth applications are to value-based care. The switches may be costly, but after seeing the applications of telehealth chronic care solutions and other remote services, several notable leaders in the healthcare space explain they couldn’t imagine returning to a time before these telehealth tools.

With that in mind, many providers are beginning to understand that remote care is set to become a part of the norm in the new age of healthcare. That, coupled with the fact that the numbers of those with chronic conditions is very likely to not drop in the future, makes telehealth for chronic care management worth the initial investment for many.

Telehealth-Fueled Chronic Care Solutions

So, if we establish that demand and incentive to invest are both present, the last issue to discuss then becomes viability of the use cases of telehealth-fueled chronic care solutions. Thankfully, there are plenty of proven instances of remote solutions being implemented effectively and improving chronic care.   

Chronic Care Management Remote Patient Monitoring

Remote monitoring programs have seen many impressive deployments across care facilities as several patients continue to require care regardless of whether or not they’re able to see their physicians in person.

In these deployments, care kits are created with vital tracking hardware that can be sent home with a patient. From there, any reported metrics can be shared digitally to a physician who can then guide the patient to manage their own conditions from home. In many cases, rugged medical tablet can even be shared with patients that allow them to report these metrics more easily.

What has proven to be so effective in these deployments is the fact that data recorded by a patient can be updated onto a shared record with their physicians in real-time, altering caregivers of any instances where dangerous vital levels need to be addressed or treatment adjustments need to be made.

For those interested in creating patient monitoring programs of their own, attention need be paid to whether or not the hardware being sent home with a patient is properly protected against infection. 

As far as the hardware needed in the facility, you’ll want workstations optimized for telehealth communications. Something like a lightweight medical cart computer that can be wheeled into a secluded room where patient doctor confidentiality can be maintained is essential. And finally, in regards to what vital tracking and symptom management/reporting tools you can also include in your remote monitoring programs, there are a few must-haves you can’t do without.    

Wearables

And while we’re talking about hardware shared with patients, there are several consumer wearables that make reporting symptoms and conditions much more approachable for those with chronic conditions. And there’s more interesting wearable solutions beyond just the Fitbits and Apple Watches we’re familiar with, though those are still incredibly effective. 

Amazon’s Halo is an example of a new consumer-level healthcare wearable that actually integrates with Cerner EHRs. More interoperable wearable solutions such as these are a powerful tool for telehealth for chronic care management. Not only can patients passively gather data on symptoms, meaning they can be shared in real-time and responded to in real-time, this data is instantly transferred into an EHR and populates forms that staff would normally have to fill out manually, making more responsive care even more possible.

Educate Staff so They Can Educate Patients

Many times, patients in need of chronic care solutions don’t know what tools they already have at their disposal. We mentioned earlier that 96% of patients believe mobile health applications can benefit them and the care they receive. That said, a simple recommendation for an app that can be downloaded on a patient’s wearable or smartphone can be the small push they need to start managing their lifestyles a little more conscious of their conditions.

Whether a patient may benefit from a pedometer that will encourage them to be more active, a calorie counter to keep them on top of their nutrition, or even a sleep tracking application to manage stress, they won’t start to experience those benefits if they don’t know those tools are out there.

A recommendation from a physician for one of more of these applications can carry a lot of weight and both improve a patient’s adherence to treatments while also giving providers more information with which to fine-tune care.

Try to have physicians read up and study on some applications or even recommend ones they’ve found useful in their own lives so they can better educate patients about the tools that could one day save their lives.

Chronic Care Management is Changing. Will You Change With It?

Nothing will truly ever be the exact same after this typhoon of a year. It’s very likely that, while some semblance of the status quo will return such as in-person visits and patient checkups, we’ve seen too many benefits of telehealth now that we’ve been forced to adopt it to suddenly backtrack on it all. Starting to implement changes such as the inclusion of telehealth for chronic care management now will make the inevitable larger shift to more remote treatment easier since you’ll have a foot in the door from the get go. For more information on how you can begin to implement remote chronic care solutions, contact an expert from Cybernet today.