What is telehealth? Telehealth is the use of technology to deliver health care, health information or health education at a distance. There has been a growing need for telehealth, especially in assisted living facilities. In Ohio alone, the number of adults age 85 and over will nearly triple over the next 30 years to 650,000 in 2050. More than 70 percent of Americans over the age of 65 will need long-term care services at some point in their lives and the cost of institutional care is currently $75,000 to $100,000 per year and rising.
At the Indiana Rural Health Association’s Annual Conference, a case study on telehealth was presented from a partnership between Maple Knoll Communities and The University of Cincinnati. The presentation was led by Dr. Debi Sampsel, the Chief Officer of Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the University of Cincinnati, College of Nursing and Megan Ulrich, the Director of Corporate Communications Maple Knoll Communities, Inc. The University of Cincinnati partnered with Maple Knoll Communities to observe how a variety of Telehealth devices can be used in aging services settings, from remote control robots to biometric monitoring. From this case study they learned about residents, families, health care providers, and engineering faculty’s response to use of telehealth and the link to access to care. They were also able to use the results of this case study to plan necessary steps for implementation and organizational readiness for telehealth application and/or expansion of services.
One telehealth device they used was the Flo-Bot. According to the presentation that was given, Flo-Bot is an InTouch Remote Presence Robot that performs patient assessments. It’s a specialist that “treats” from remote locations. Flo-Bot’s service results in quicker intervention and fewer trips to the ER. Flo-Bot provides better care at a lower cost. Another telehealth device that they provided to the Maple Knoll Communities is the V-GO. V-GO is in the beginning stages of “rounding” in Independent Living Apartments to help individuals live independently with the assistance of a physicians or nursing staff member. Some of the other benefits of V-GO include: patient education, monitoring, and remote communication. V-GO provides health assistance at a lower cost and assists in ability to age in place.
There were some challenges involving the telehealth devices. Some of those challenges include: the lack of funding for telehealth devices, educating and training on the telehealth devices for staff and physicians, and making sure that they maintained a high speed connection that is compatible with their devices. Their solution to their financial issue came from their partnership with the University of Cincinnati, and their solution to their education challenge was that they made sure that they gave an early notification of program and transparent goals and guidelines so that their staff and physicians were well prepared.
Telehealth affects people in rural areas because people living in those areas could have limited access to internet and the elderly may not be comfortable with computers, but if we could make the services intuitive enough and easy to use the elderly would be more likely to use it, and they could avoid long commutes to a nearby hospital for minor things. According to Wiring in Rural Patients, “Investing in telehealth may make more financial sense for health systems with rural facilities than staffing up those facilities with specialist providers.”
We need to work with hospitals to connect patients with expert care which will save them time, money and travel. We should also provide education on assisting older adults to care givers and providers who can improve their quality of life. Lastly, we should leverage technology for health monitoring and assistance which can help catch issues sooner and monitor critical or chronic patients and provide assistance in a timely manner. We need to continue to create new technology, products and systems. If we advance telehealth and make it available across the nation, we can lower readmission rates, especially if we expand telehealth into assisted living facilities to help older adults age in place. With the elderly population growing, advancing telehealth should be a top priority since telehealth is a proven way to effectively care for elderly patients while also saving money.