Health Affairs: Telehealth program offers cost reduction
A telehealth tool may help manage care and cut expenses in the treatment for chronically ill Medicare beneficiaries, according to a recent study that looked at two clinics in the Northwest that were exposed to the intervention. Their findings were reported in the September issue of Health Affairs.

Lawrence C. Baker, professor of health research and policy, Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., and colleagues found that the Health Buddy Program was associated with spending reductions of 7.7 to 13.3 percent per person, per quarter, or between $312 and $542, for the patients who used the program, compared with matched controls.

“Because we found evidence that this intervention was successful in reducing spending, it seems clear that this program merits continued attention,” wrote Baker et al. “In the foreseeable future, CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] and other providers will have to find innovative methods for dealing with the financial and clinical issues surrounding chronic care.”

While treatment of chronic diseases makes up nearly 80 percent of U.S. healthcare spending, researchers suggest that systems-based approaches may improve care management. The Health Buddy Program utilizes a handheld device and monitors in patients' homes, where patients can respond to daily questions tailored for their diagnosis. Responses are uploaded to a web-based application that evaluates the risk associated with responses. It’s designed to capture and provide health information to care managers, enabling them to potentially improve care and reduce costs, according to the study.

“We compared spending in the intervention group before and after patients were offered the program, and we compared those findings to changes observed in the control group over the same time period,” wrote Baker et al. “After the program became available, intervention-group spending fell, while control-group spending remained relatively stable.”

The authors suggested that the program may offer innovation encouraged by regulatory reform.

“The results from this project appear to suggest avenues by which Medicare could improve healthcare delivery and efficiency in the treatment of chronic disease. Not all demonstration projects have identified promising programs, but this particular approach did so,” concluded Baker and colleagues. “We take this as an indication of the potential value of using demonstration projects to study innovations in healthcare delivery.”