Monday, September 14, 2009

Connected Health Lowers ER Visits and Healthcare Costs

One of the biggest culprits contributing to high healthcare costs is that people go to the emergency room when they cannot, for whatever reason, see their doctor, or do not have a doctor because they are among the more than 46.3 million uninsured Americans. (Latest count from the U.S. Census Bureau). President Obama so aptly described this situation in his recent address to the joint session of Congress, when he talked of the catch 22 situation experienced by those who have health insurance and who not only pay their own high premiums, but also pay a hidden tax in the high healthcare costs generated by ER use and other charitable care of the uninsured.

There are nearly 120 million visits annually to the ER for conditions that range from a simple stomach ache, the flu or a sore throat to more serious flare ups experienced by the more than 130 million Americans who suffer with chronic diseases. Nearly 50% of Americans had at least one chronic medical condition, which could include diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and heart failure. These individuals tend to have more frequent need for emergency care than others.

Connected Health also known as telemedicine is a new way of delivering healthcare to individuals with chronic conditions and those who are homebound or to all those who live in more remote areas where there are few medical facilities. Connected health is enabled by the convergence of the Internet, high bandwidth telecommunications, video technology; the development of CT scanning and electronic scopes, the availability of sophisticated robotics and sensors, and the spread of electronic health records. The concept behind connected health is to provide the pathways and to give patients the tools, education, and responsibility to better manage their own health with the assistance of networks of medical providers who steps in when and where needed.

These empowered patients use tools including sensor devices, such as weight scales, that measure fluid retention, devices for checking, taking and recording blood sugar levels, and widgets that can detect when patients take their medication. There is also clothing that measures blood pressure, oxygen levels, and body temperature, and implantable cardiac monitors. All of these devices are tied to communication systems that send data to a healthcare provider. When something goes awry, an immediate solution is put in place so that many trips to the ER can be avoided.

The annual Connected Health Symposium, Up from Crisis: Overhauling Healthcare Information, Payment and Delivery in Extraordinary Times will take place in at Boston on October 21, 22. These two days of lively sessions include discussions on healthcare reform, patient-centered healthcare new developments in mobile health technology and chronic disease management and more. For anyone interested in healthcare reform spearheaded by the deployment of new technologies in medicine, this is a must.

The promise of the connected health movement, which represents another facet of health reform is that it provides an infrastructure and the tools to change health behaviors, adjust the way we think about resolving a health crisis and, over the long term, significantly cut the cost of caring for many people, especially those with chronic conditions. In the short term, like everything else on the road to reform, connected health will cost money to deploy. However, for those who have the vision to take the longer view, the promise to realize significant savings cannot be ignored.