In an era of M&A, telehealth keeps healthcare delivery local
Estimated reading time: 5-7 minutes
The consolidation of hospitals and health systems is becoming the new normal across the healthcare ecosystem. If consolidation continues as expected, Deloitte has estimated that only 50 percent of today’s unique health systems will remain and there will be a larger number of hospitals per system. While the goal is to ultimately deliver on the quadruple aim of an improved experience for patients and staff, better health outcomes and a lower cost of care, these consolidations do not come without hiccups or challenges.
This is a scary reality, and the impact is often felt the most by local hospitals in rural areas. As large-scale consolidation continues to fundamentally change how hospitals and health systems compete for patients and operate their business lines, they will need to think strategically about how to remain competitive in this rapidly changing environment.
So, how do we solve some of the challenges that can come from this consolidation? The answer is with telehealth solutions. Through the support of off-site specialists that provide local care teams with expert guidance and 24/7 oversight, telehealth can help increase patients’ access to high quality care – no matter where they are located – and can cut down on travel time to receive quality care.
Telehealth to the rescue
In addition to dealing with increasing amounts of consolidation, local hospitals are also struggling to draw in and retain clinician talent. Many of these clinician shortages can be brought about by M&A activities, hospital closures and shrinking patient populations. However, another huge challenge comes from a limited number of new clinicians entering the field as older ones retire, making recruiting talent to rural areas a bigger challenge, as most would often rather work in more urban settings.
Through telehealth innovations that use video, digital, wireless and mobile networks, as well as devices and tools to deliver care and education, patients can have access to care wherever they may be. This includes access to experienced and specialized clinicians that may be based in other areas. Telehealth can also prevent patients from needing to travel hundreds of miles to seek the care they need. One area in particular that has proven to benefit immensely from telehealth is the acute care setting of the hospital. Take for example, the successes seen by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health and Baptist Health South Florida.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health partnered with Philips to implement its eICU program to address some of the challenges brought about by ongoing clinician shortages – providing patients the care they need, wherever they are located. Through the program, patients can now receive care at the health system’s flagship hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, or at their local hospital with the support of specialists based at DHMC.
Baptist Health South Florida took its success with the Philips eICU program a step further. While the original intent was to augment the limited number of acute care clinicians and standardize care delivery across all acute care units throughout the health system, it has since evolved to become a more complete system. The program now includes six hospitals and 16 units across the health system – expanded to include the acute care setting, progressive care units for patients who need an intermediate level of care, as well as emergency departments. Leveraging the Philips eICU program, Baptist Health South Florida has reduced hospital mortality by 23%  and decreased mortality and length of stay for patients in progressive care units, showing the value of expanding this technology into new care settings.
There is work to be done – but the future is bright
While telehealth technologies have huge potential, there is still work to be done in terms of full adoption. For example, according to the 2019 Future Health Index (FHI) Report, telehealth has yet to become a common part of healthcare professionals’ day-to-day work in the U.S. Fifty four percent say that they do not currently use any form of telehealth in their practice or hospital, compared to the 15-country average of 39 percent of respondents outside of the U.S. market .
However, the benefits of telehealth solutions are beginning to speak for themselves – especially in the acute care setting as evidenced by the above successes. The Baptist Health example in particular shows that by investing in the right technology framework and clinical expertise, hospitals and health systems can begin to expand the breadth of telehealth programs to include other areas outside the ICU that really need them.
Every patient deserves to receive the best level care, and should not have to forego treatment or travel hundreds of miles and put their health at risk simply because of their location. The consolidation of U.S. hospitals will ultimately create larger care delivery organizations to serve broader and more mobile populations – scaling care delivery through these changes to ensure the patient remains at the center of care. Telehealth has the potential to improve care quality and access, as well as to revitalize the local hospital model by giving them the tools they need to succeed in this challenging and changing market.
 Willmitch B, Golembeski S, Kim SS, Nelson LD, Gidel L. Clinical outcomes after telemedicine intensive care unit implementation. Journal of Critical Care Medicine. 2012; 40(2): 450-454.
Business Leader, Patient Care Analytics at Philips
Jacob Durgan is the GM of Patient Care Analytics at Philips where he leads the organisation addressing the needs of healthcare providers in the acute care space with informatics and broader enterprise telehealth solutions.
Prior to this role, Jacob was the Commercial Leader for Healthcare Informatics, where he was responsible for leading the commercial function across global markets for EHR, Radiology PACS, Cardiology Informatics, Oncology Informatics and Advanced Visualization.