It’s the reimbursement. Telemedicine in nursing homes by specialists on call seems like a natural. A nursing home resident is usually older and frail. Nursing homes don’t generally have doctors in the facility; only 10 percent are estimated to have on-site doctors. A telemedicine consult administered by a nurse or even a trained assistant can provide proactive, just-in-time care, and possibly prevent an expensive hospital/ER visit–two-thirds of which may be potentially avoidable. That ER visit also can start a disastrous and expensive decline in the resident.
So the problem in the stars is…economics.What insurance companies pay for telehealth/telemedicine services. It varies if the patient is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or dual-eligible–and also by private or LTC insurance. Some providers and payers are engaged with value-based care and payment models–others are not. CMS is concerned that telehealth drives up costs, not reduces them. Finally, administrators and nursing/clinical staff in the facility are not necessarily comfortable with technology in general. (Excel spreadsheets are, believe it or not, foreign to many.)
As Readers know, Call 9 couldn’t figure out the reimbursement problem nor how to keep up with payer demands–and ceased business [TTA 26 June]. Others like Curavi and Third Eye Health provide a video cart and provide on-demand consults. On the Federal level with Medicare, payments have been expanded for end-stage renal disease and stroke treatment, and Medicare Advantage plans can now offer telehealth. Still, there is no direct payment under Medicare for virtual emergency medicine. And telemedicine remains a rarity in SNFs, who prefer to send their residents to ERs ‘just to be sure’. POLITICO
Back in March, this Editor noted the substantial $34 million raise over the past three years by Call9. The Brooklyn-based company has pioneered an innovative approach filling a non-glamorous but badly needed gap in care–providing in-facility emergency care in SNFs and rehab facilities. Embedded in-facility first responders summoned by SNF nurses provide immediate care at a higher level than nursing home staff, married to telehealth capability that connects to remotely located emergency medicine doctors via a video cart and diagnostics. The goal is to provide care immediately, avoid unnecessary and potentially harmful ER/ED admissions (estimated at 19 percent of ambulance transports), and generally keep SNF patients healthier while on site.
The numbers are there. Call9 reported in their studies a 50 percent reduction in ER admissions and a savings of $8M per year for a 200-bed nursing facility. Even if these numbers are high, a reduction is welcome news to SNFs, payors, Medicare, and one would think nursing home patients and families. Hospital readmissions within 30 days are also a CMS quality measure important to SNFs–the lower the better.
The Hunter College Center for Health Technology in their blog reported that one Call9 feature is special training for staff at their in-house Call9 Academy in the unique emergency care demands present in a SNF. These were initally learned first hand by the founder, Dr. Timothy Peck, who lived three months in a Long Island SNF’s conference room in order to better understand staff and patient needs.
It not only saves money, but fills other gaps in care and social determinants of health. Part of the Academy training covers the gap in palliative care with residents, and can facilitate Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) preparation with families. Last year, Call9 partnered with Lyft to provide transportation for family members of nursing home residents who have had a change in condition. Other partnerships serve the needs of community paramedicine services to connect with telehealth services as part of CMS’ ET3 model. The company currently covers over 3,700 beds in New York State, recently expanding to Albany, its third city.
A similar company, Third Eye Health, based in Chicago, covers about 15,000 beds but is a ‘lighter’ system that concentrates on remote care without the embedded staff and purely tablet based remote consults initiated by staff nurses. Both indicate through their growth and funding a surge in realization that both improved care and major savings to healthcare can be realized here.