Remotely monitoring patients with chronic diseases could cut nearly $200 billion from U.S. healthcare costs over the next 25 years, according to a new study by economist Robert Litan.
Public policy changes would be necessary to achieve the full savings, but even without them, the technology could reduce healthcare costs by $153 billion, Litan, vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Government Health IT.
Besides reducing costs, remote monitoring could improve health outcomes and the quality of life for about 10 million people, Litan said. Government Health IT reported that they analyzed potential effects on patients with four conditions: congestive heart failure, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic skin ulcers.
The savings would come primarily by reducing emergency room visits, hospitalizations and hospital lengths of stay. “What this technology is able to do is eliminate a lot of false visits” to hospitals, Litan said, referring to unnecessary visits caused by sudden downturns in a patient’s health.
Remote monitoring involves equipping patients with devices such as heart and blood pressure monitors or blood sugar meters, then transmitting meter readings to a healthcare center that tracks the data. The goal is to spot problems as they develop and take steps immediately, rather than waiting for them to become crises.
Unlike telemedicine systems, remote monitoring involves one-way transmissions that often do not tax bandwidth. Nonetheless, he said, successful programs require smart broadband that is highly reliable and secure and gives critical medical transmissions priority in the event of data traffic jams.
Litan called for more broadband deployment throughout the United States and policy changes, particularly in the area of reimbursement for remote monitoring. Although healthcare providers are paid for telemedicine when it involves two-way video consultations, they are not paid for monitoring patients’ conditions preventively.
“Hospitals and doctors can’t provide services unless they get paid,” Litan said. “We need insurance reimbursement policies, beginning with Medicare and Medicaid, that cover remote monitoring.”
His other policy recommendations included education for technology users, workable privacy and liability rules and standards for interoperable systems, Government Health IT said.
The report, “Vital Signs Via Broadband: Remote Health Monitoring Transmits Savings, Enhances Lives,” was released Oct. 24 at a press conference in Washington, D.C. AT &T and Better Health Care Together, a nonprofit consortium that promotes healthcare reform, funded the research.