Healthcare costs in the US have steadily risen for decades, accounting for $3.8 trillion or 17.7 percent of the country’s GDP. Because of this, one in five Americans skip or have skipped needed healthcare due to cost concerns—leading to a need for cost intervention.

With certain changes, telemedicine platforms can help reduce healthcare costs at a scalable level to accomplish significant cost savings for payers, providers, and patients alike.

The challenges with our current high-cost, low efficacy telemedicine system

Today’s telemedicine exhibits limited capacities—lacking the precise clinical examination necessary for long term adoption.

Integrating technology and connected devices to collect objective measurements, such as heart and lung sounds, into telemedicine platforms can help support better quality of care. However, further advancements are necessary to ensure that such integrations do not result in higher care costs.

Many of today’s telemedicine platforms represent significant cost for the clinicians using them. As a result, their use results in increased operating costs and overall healthcare costs. To truly lower costs, we need to replace the existing, expensive healthcare delivery system of today with a scalable, effective system that is easy to use—all in one integrated platform.

Improving ease of delivery by increasing accessibility through reduced patient-facing cost

Creating expensive technologies to replace our existing telemedicine platforms is not an answer for reducing costs. Instead, keeping the cost of telemedicine low enough to be scalable across patient populations is important in addressing the rising healthcare costs and making telemedicine a meaningful solution.

Currently, the connected devices required to ensure quality telemedicine visits typically cost upwards of $300, depending on the type of device. With many of these costs being patient-facing, the devices present unrealistic solutions in many households where individuals are unable or unwilling to purchase such an expensive device.

Increasing the accessibility of next-generation telemedicine platforms begins with making the technology and devices available, affordably. For example, Steth IO is a robust telemedicine platform that combines traditional audio-visual remote visits with a smartphone-compatible connected device that captures patient heart and lung sounds and generates visualizations of those sounds to highlight potential irregularities and problems. Despite its unique integrated telemedicine platform, the Steth IO platform provides significant cost savings compared to similar devices and platforms—making it a more viable and accessible solution for patients, their providers, and health plans.

Solutions like Steth IO that allow for meaningful telemedicine visits while keeping costs low ensure quality telemedicine is accessible for the general public and help fuel telemedicine expansion. As such, the devices become essential medical equipment to be kept at home—the same way many households keep a thermometer in their medicine cupboard. And unlike prescribed medications, connected devices do not have a shelf life making them an integral tool for years to come. 

When we make the needed diagnostic devices more widely available, a paradigm shift occurs as telemedicine becomes an ongoing viable option for not only diagnosed patients with chronic conditions, but for those who may just need a clinician visit once or twice a year. Time and space shrink, giving more people access to care-–and clinicians the opportunity to see more patients with lower overhead.

Building affordable telemedicine at scale by reducing provider and payer overhead

Up until the pandemic, telemedicine provided a largely niche market, catering to those who were unable to leave the house or lived in remote areas that made visiting an in-person clinic difficult.

The next generation of telemedicine provides opportunities for all—including patients living next door to a clinic—to receive quality care without having to go into the clinic. With the right connected devices at home, patients can book an appointment, pay, and complete their visit all via their personal cell phone.

Bringing telemedicine out of a niche market and into a mass market significantly reduces care costs without compromising the quality of care. As more and more visits can be done effectively by telemedicine, providers are free to reduce spend on non-value-add expenses that are traditionally necessary in an in-person clinical setting. This could include reducing money spent on maintaining large clinic spaces and exam rooms, staffing reception desks and large teams of physician assistants, or even saving on smaller upfront costs like cleaning supplies and PPE. Over time, these changes result in across-the-board savings for payers, clinicians, and patients alike and an affordable long-term solution to reducing our high healthcare costs.

The cost savings associated with next generation telemedicine programs

The reduced costs that payers, clinicians, and patients see will ultimately pay for the cost of these technologies set up.

For payers, frameworks exist that reimburse payers for deploying these technologies into patient homes. As such, some payers opt to cover the cost of providing devices like blood pressure machines, or integrated telehealth platforms like the Steth IO that help ultimately reduce the cost of care on all fronts—including reducing high-cost utilization such as preventable ED utilization, inpatient admissions, and readmissions.

For clinicians, operational expenses are reduced as less money is needed to maintain, furnish, and staff a large brick-and-mortar clinic, resulting in lower overhead and significant savings. Patients also see savings as integrated telemedicine platforms allow them to stay connected with their physician—without incurring the cost of travel, childcare, or loss of pay that often accompany travel to a physical clinic.

As more integrated telehealth platforms continue to prove reduced costs—and maintain quality of care—our “next-generation telemedicine” ultimately becomes the next generation of healthcare.

Restoring patient and physician trust in telehealth

3 things that need to happen if telehealth will remain a viable healthcare option post-pandemic—and why they need to

Mahesh Mulumudi, MD

Carmen was a 48-year-old mother of three with diagnosed type 2 diabetes. A single mother, she was working extra shifts to help her youngest attend the nearby state college when she started experiencing shortness of breath and heart palpitations.

Concerned about missing work, Carmen had opted for a virtual doctor’s visit—explaining her symptoms quickly during a ten-minute break in her car. She was diagnosed with anxiety and prescribed a care plan that included a short-term dosage of anxiety medication and follow-up visits with a virtual therapist. Within weeks, Carmen ended up in the emergency department where, upon further examination, it was discovered she had a weak heart pump and was experiencing acute heart failure.

Unfortunately, Carmen’s story is not unique—and it’s instances like this that lead patients and providers alike to remain wary of telehealth.

The loss of trust in healthcare

While a public health crisis has necessitated fast adoption of telehealth, a J.D. Power Telehealth Satisfaction study shares that 43 percent of surveyed patients feel telehealth is cold or “impersonal,” and nearly half believe telehealth offers a lower quality of care than in-person physician visits.

And the lack of confidence goes both ways.

More than ten years after the introduction of Teledoc, arguably the first modern telehealth platform, 75 percent of physicians were still reporting high levels of distrust in telehealth as a viable option for correctly diagnosing a patient. Six years later, the numbers have improved, but only slightly.

Combining better audio-visual capabilities with remote patient monitoring devices can help restore both patient and physician trust in telemedicine’s capacity for long-term, effective value-based care. 

Restoring confidence through like-live examinations

Pitfalls of today’s telemedicine system that drive patient and provider distrust include strictly-asynchronous telemedicine models where patient information is submitted for a physician’s later review, or audio-only phone calls where providers lack the opportunity to observe the patient through the addition of live video.

While implementing these “store and forward” or audio-based telemedicine platforms can seem faster to implement than platforms that facilitate live audio-visual telemedicine calls, these models ultimately set both patient and provider up for quick wins rather than reliable, long term gains.

Conversely, a report published by the American Psychiatric Association reviewed 30 randomized controlled trials involving live video-conferencing examinations and found that “With the exception of one study, the review found no statistical difference in clinical outcomes… delivered by synchronous video-conferencing treatment and in-person treatment.”

While it’s easier to see the feasibility of audio-visual calls in addressing mental and behavioral health conditions, these same principles notably improve the quality of care received by chronic care patients as well. When coupled with additional connected devices that offer insight into physical conditions, the visits provided through telehealth services further improve and can even begin to rival the standards of care patients would receive in a traditional clinical visit.

Improving chronic condition care by introducing connected devices into live examinations

Telemedicine as it exists today relies highly on surface level information—things a physician can observe with the eye or be told by a patient—but lacks the ability to observe what’s happening inside the body. As such, evaluating patients through traditional telemedicine practices continues to pose challenges because it still involves a lot of guesswork on the part of the physician—leading to less-confident diagnoses from providers and less confidence in those diagnoses from the patients.

The addition of connected devices—especially for patients with chronic conditions who are seen regularly—can alleviate this guesswork by offering ways for patients to share, and providers to observe, things like heart and lung sounds.

The Steth IO Spot addresses this gap by providing a digital stethoscope that can plug directly into a patient’s smartphone to capture heart and lung sounds as part of a live audio-visual examination via the Steth IO telemedicine platform. As a result, this remote care experience becomes clinical and life-like as patients and providers are able to talk to and see each other while also listening to heart and lung sounds as though the patient was physically in the exam room. 

Furthermore, the Steth IO platform augments the telemedicine experience by visually representing sounds from the Spot device on the provider screen—allowing physicians to quickly identify potential issues that would have been more difficult to diagnose by ear alone and triage care accordingly.

For a case like Carmen, having these capabilities upfront could have helped the provider recognize early stages of heart failure more quickly—even at her younger age—and prescribe a more appropriate care plan that would have reduced her risk of needing to be admitted to the hospital.

Providing continued support through ongoing education, reminders, and monitoring

Current patient support functionality, for many healthcare organizations, consists solely of a printed visit summary following an appointment—summarizing what was discussed, outlining expectations, and listing what follow-up the patient needs to take. Where these summaries end, however, the capabilities of telemedicine platforms begin—reestablishing patient trust through better virtual support via telehealth.

In addition to visit summaries, telehealth platforms offer ongoing, comprehensive direction tailored to each patient’s condition and situation in real time. For example, patients can get notifications to take medications, follow their diets, complete daily at-home rehab regimens and schedule their five-day follow-up appointments—all within one app.

For telemedicine platforms like Steth IO that are able to combine live audio-visual visits with remote patient monitoring within a single platform that also offers post-exam support, patient experience is both simplified and improved. As a result, the comprehensive support provided—which would not have been possible through a clinical visit alone—leads to better patient trust and better overall outcomes.

The bottom-line benefits of telemedicine

The long-term benefits that telemedicine can offer patients with chronic conditions far outweigh the initial cost of platform integration, but only when we’re willing to commit the time and resources upfront to following best practices and establishing models that help both patients and their providers feel confident in the technology. When this is achieved, patient health outcomes and quality of life improve—as do care costs over time.

It has been proven that audio-visual visits achieve average short-term cost reductions between $19-$121 per visit in cost avoidance—and larger long-term savings as patients avoid unnecessary emergency and inpatient utilization, readmissions, and more. Furthermore, as we improve the quality of our virtual visits through platforms like Steth IO, we can reduce the pressure providers feel to order extra and unnecessary tests—a large source of unnecessary cost to both patient and payers—that overcompensate for lack of confidence in the diagnosis as a result from poor telehealth platforms.

As we continue to fine-tune our telehealth capabilities, telemedicine platforms like Steth IO will become a key player in affordably improving patient care as we move past the pandemic and into a healthcare system that is increasingly more focused on value-based models of care.

Newchip Virtual Demo Week

Every two months, Newchip hosts a week-long online conference that combines the best expert-led panels with a demo showcase of our global startup portfolio. These conferences are free and open for investors, potential partners, and new entrepreneurs – and this week, we are excited that StethIO’s President & CEO, Dr. Mahesh Mulumudi, MD, is among the presenters.

You can learn more by visiting Newchip’s site!

Improving Telehealth Effectiveness Through Vitals

How providers are overcoming the downfalls of traditional audio-visual telehealth with a single smartphone plug-in

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the catalyst for rapid acknowledgment and adoption of telehealth services across the country, and the new CMS policies for 2021 suggest this adoption could be long-term—even once the pandemic ends.

For organizations looking to expand their telehealth services, the top-down support being given from government agencies makes this the perfect time to strengthen telehealth and remote patient monitoring options by overcoming traditional digital health downfalls and increasing security to better serve populations with chronic and acute care needs.

Vitals are vital: bridging gaps through real-time data

While telemedicine offers greater freedom to have doctor visits from the comfort and safety of a patient’s home, concerns that virtual visits are unable to complete key components of check-ups—such as listening to heart and lung sounds—have posed barriers into long-term adoption.

Mahesh Mulumudi, MD, practicing interventional cardiologist, and CEO of Steth IO shares:

If you are seeing a patient with COPD by audio visual technology, you can ask questions about whether they are short of breath, but you cannot objectively evaluate how the air flow is in their lungs. You need to listen to the lungs to get a feel for what to do next—whether that’s triaging and helping this patient along at home, sending this patient to the ED, or referring the patient to another type of therapy. And that is just one example of a condition where this type of real time active listening to the lungs might make a difference in both chronic and acute care situations.

Steth IO—a uniquely blended hardware and software technology—is bridging this gap. Its remote cardiopulmonary monitors allow physicians to listen to heart and lung sounds as part of real-time virtual visits.

Relying on a small, device-agnostic stethoscope that plugs into patient smartphones, the technology transmits heart and lung sounds—along with visual representations of those sounds—in real time to doctors on the other end of the audio-visual call. This allows the physician to not only check vitals, but have the information needed to reliably identify potential issues and diagnosis appropriate next steps.

Strengthening patient data safety

Concerns about patient privacy continue to cause ongoing concern with telehealth expansion—with over 41 million patient records breached in 2019 (a 48% increase over 2018)—and the federal government temporarily relaxing HIPAA laws during the pandemic.

While telehealth has not been cited as the cause for these breaches, as its use expands, so do fears about meeting HIPAA guidelines and—more importantly—ensuring patient information remains safe.

HIPAA represents a set of laws that organizations agree to uphold, but accountability to those laws is limited. Working with telehealth solutions like Steth IO that are certified through security regulation entities like HITRUST—and adherent to HIPAA laws—can ensure a higher standard of protection and accountability for data shared. In addition, HITRUST certification must be renewed every two years, ensuring ongoing quality control and checks for better data safety.

Telehealth: seeing the benefits beyond the pandemic

While the need for social distancing and face masks will likely subside with the release and wide administration of a vaccine, the importance of live telehealth will not. Remote care—while important for providing safe care during the pandemic—has benefits that reach beyond what traditional brick-and-mortar doctor’s offices are better able to offer.

Telehealth has the potential to fill gaps in lower-acuity care by making it easier for care teams to see more patients with less overhead and exam rooms. Dr. Mulumudi continues:

U.S. healthcare costs and quality of care is hurting because we’re not able to keep up with the volume of patients that need care. Depending on the condition, though, almost 60% to 70% of these needed clinic visits can be done on telemedicine; they don’t really need to come into an office. Using technologies like Steth IO to truly evaluate patients remotely will allow more patients to be seen, evaluated and delivered therapy.

In addition, by bringing the check-ups to patients where they are, remote monitoring technology helps overcome barriers posed by social determinants of health that traditionally prevent vulnerable patients from getting the care they need—leading to condition exacerbation and increased likelihood of a visit to the ER.

When patients are able to complete live check-ups at home or work with devices like Steth IO and their own smartphone, hassles like lack of transportation, finding suitable childcare, or taking two hours off of work become non-existent, increasing the likelihood of the individual getting the appropriate preventative care.

The expansion of digital health offers an exciting frontier for healthcare, and by leveraging available funding, waivers, and reimbursements, implementing safe, effective solutions like Steth IO has become more affordable and profitable than ever. In addition, care costs are reduced through lower overhead with the increase in virtual visits, and more patients receive appropriate preventative care. Ultimately, unnecessary hospitalization is avoided—and patient outcomes improve.