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Telehealth Can Be an Effective and Affordable Support System In Rural Areas

A recent study found that using telehealth for palliative care support in rural areas is cost-effective, and Medicare can help cover the costs.
UPDATED MAR 20, 2024
Image Source: Pexels
Image Source: Pexels

A team of researchers from renowned institutions collaborated to demonstrate that telehealth can effectively and economically support rural family caregivers by providing palliative care at home for patients transitioning from hospital to home. Recognizing the unique challenges faced by rural caregivers in coordinating care, the study focused on a program that offered eight weeks of personalized support via video visits, phone calls, and text messages from a dedicated palliative care nurse. These nurses assisted caregivers in properly managing their jobs by offering education, support, and counselling.

Image Source: Photo by Karolina Grabowska | pexels
Image Source: Photo by Karolina Grabowska | pexels

A new study published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine explored the feasibility and impact of providing telehealth-based palliative care support in remote regions. The study assessed expenses related to this strategy and potential Medicare coverage. By comparing outcomes between caregivers receiving telehealth support and those who did not, it evaluated the effectiveness and benefits of this model in improving palliative care access in underserved areas.

Researchers assessed the costs of telehealth support provided by social workers, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses for caregivers. They also looked at potential costs versus benefits and Medicare payment options. Their findings show that the average cost per caregiver in rural areas using telehealth support was approximately: $395 for registered nurses, $337 for social workers and $585 for nurse practitioners.

For high and moderate-complexity patients, researchers identified that Medicare reimbursement using the Transitional Care Management (TCM) CPT code was approximately $260 and $322, respectively. Medicare reimbursement averaged $348 for complicated patients and $274 for non-complex patients using the Chronic Care Management (CCM) CPT code.

Medicare paid $496 on average for high-complexity/complex patients and $397 for moderate-complexity/non-complex patients when the researchers combined the compensation from both CPT codes.

Senior study author Joan Griffin, PhD, a health services research professor at Mayo Clinic, highlighted that medical practitioners can draw insights from this research about reimbursable and efficient strategies to engage with family caregivers. She stressed that the price of this kind of research may be less than first thought. Griffin stated that determining who is most in need of this intervention and how to best deliver these services to them will be the difficult task ahead.

Image Source: Photo by Anna Shvets | pexels
Image Source: Photo by Anna Shvets | pexels

Healthcare researchers are delving deeper into the cost-effectiveness of telehealth as it exhibits growing clinical benefits and enhances access to care. Promising findings have been found in recent investigations. For instance, telemedicine helped cancer patients save time and money on travel, according to a study released last year. In this specific study, researchers assessed the financial savings linked to completed telehealth visits at a single comprehensive cancer centre authorized by the National Cancer Institute between April 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021. Patients between the ages of 18 and 65 patients were included in the analysis.

Image Source: Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko | Pexels
Image Source: Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko | Pexels

The study involved 11,688 patients who took part in a total of 25,486 telehealth visits. Among these visits, 4,525 were for new patients, and 20,971 were follow-up appointments. Approximately 15,663 visits involved female patients, and 18,360 involved Hispanic non-White patients.

The researchers looked at travel expenses and the potential loss of productivity resulting from medical visits. Travel expenses were calculated based on the distance saved from not driving to the clinic, while the potential loss of productivity was determined by the income lost due to travel time and missed work for in-person visits. They discovered that the average total cost savings ranged from $147.4 to $186.1, depending on the mileage reimbursement rate.