Better Health, Better Care, and Lower Costs Through Telehealth

Jan 24, 2014, 4:28 PM, Posted by

Kristi Henderson, DNP, NP-BC, FAEN, is the chief advanced practice officer and director of telehealth for the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where she holds dual appointments in the School of Medicine and School of Nursing. She has an administrative and clinical practice as a family and acute care nurse practitioner, and is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellow. This post is part of the “Health Care in 2014” series.


As we ring in the New Year, do any of these scenarios ring true for you or your family?

  • There is someone who suffers from diabetes but lives an hour from a diabetes specialist. They can’t stay in the community where they live for treatment and an already-taxing diagnosis becomes a burden to treat. What if there was a way that the diabetes specialist, diabetes educator, pharmacist, ophthalmologist, and nutritionist could all be brought to this patient virtually by way of today’s technology? What if there was a way for a treatment plan to be customized to each patient and adjusted in real-time from information uploaded from a smartphone?

  • There is someone who has heart failure and for every ‘flare up’ the only option is to go to the local emergency room (ER). Medication and check-up regimens are followed every year but the ER visits are the only way to see a health care provider at a moment’s notice. What if health stats, vital signs, and symptoms could all be tracked by the health care provider to identify subtle changes early on, or when symptoms begin to worsen, and interventions could avoid an ER visit? Imagine if symptoms, vital signs, weight and medication side effects were monitored while a patient with heart failure goes about their day, not just at their scheduled check-ups.
  • What if a parent of a school-aged child didn’t have to take time away from work (without pay) to take their child to a medical clinic for a check-up or for symptoms of a cold?  What if health care services could be brought to children in the school clinic for screening exams, counseling, and sick care?

  •  A mother lives in a local nursing home and is complaining of a stomach ache.  Since the health care provider at the medical clinic is swamped with scheduled patients, she is taken by ambulance to the ER. She stays in the ER all day for tests and CT scans to find out she simply has a urinary tract infection. What if there was technology in the nursing homes that connected a health care provider to the elderly, avoiding the high cost, high risk, and unnecessary ER visit?

  • A father is taken to the ER for symptoms of a stroke. When he arrives to the ER, there is not a stroke neurologist on staff at the hospital. He is transferred by ambulance two hours away to the closest hospital that has a neurologist. When he arrives it is determined too late to perform a ‘clot buster’ to treat his stroke because of the time that has elapsed since the symptoms began. What if today’s technology could have connected a stroke neurologist to the ER where this father first arrived to deliver the appropriate timely care that could have changed the outcome?

My wish for the United States health care system in 2014 is that the “What ifs” can be reality. That anyone, anywhere, and at any time, can receive the necessary health care services from a team of health care providers, and continue to receive the support needed to reach personalized health care goals.  
The use of technology through telemedicine (telehealth) services makes this all possible. Technology brings resources to wherever they are needed. Technology can be used to bring any health care provider, nurse, specialist, therapist, nutritionist, pharmacist, etc. to a rural hospital, a clinic, a school, a business, a home. A geographic location and a lack of health providers should no longer have to inhibit one’s ability to have optimum health care services.
Wishing you Better Health, Better Health Care at a Lower Cost in 2014! 

Follow the UMMC Center for Telehealth on Twitter (@ UMMCTelehealth), and check out its Facebook page.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.