News Briefs: Telehomecare provides cost-effective treatment

Substituting interactive video sessions for up to half of a home care nurse’s patient visits with post-surgical or chronically ill patients can be a cost-effective means of providing care, according to the results of a Pennsylvania State University study.

The study followed a group of 171 diabetic patients released from the hospital and referred to a visiting nurses program. Half were randomly assigned to receive a patient telecommunication system while the remaining half received traditional home care visits. The patient system, which operates over ordinary phone lines, involved a computer and monitor equipped with a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope, voice capability and a video camera. Patients are able to see and speak with their nurses, while the caregivers, in turn, also are able to see and hear the patients in addition to being able to take basic vital signs.

The study found that those who used the system tested higher on positive outcomes of the treatment, had fewer rehospitalizations, and required fewer visits to the hospital emergency room. Additionally, researchers found that over the standard 60-day course of treatment, savings of $300 could be realized when telehomecare is substituted for seven regular in-home visits and $700 in savings could be found if half of home care visits were done via telehomecare.

Even so, says Kathryn Dansky, associate professor of health policy and administration, who led the study, "Video visits are not a complete substitute for in-home nursing care. You are always going to need home visits because patients benefit from the personal touch."