In November, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences expects to begin rolling out telemedicine initiatives such as real-time virtual appointments and remote patient monitoring to health-care providers and hospitals around the state.
Dr. Curtis Lowery, director of the UAMS Institute for Digital Health & Innovation, hopes that the virtual appointments will be available statewide by the first of the year. Details such as pricing need to be worked out, he says, and the appointments will be offered only after hours and on weekends at first. Patients can expect to pay out of pocket until insurance companies are on board, which he expects to happen soon after the program is launched. Medicare now has codes available that pay for remote patient monitoring.
“What we’re trying to do is stand up a platform that any physician in Arkansas can utilize and any health care system can utilize, and it’ll be for everybody and it’ll be with your own doctors, hopefully, if they are in the program,” Lowery says. “Being a teaching hospital, I feel like we have a commitment to the state to be a resource for the entire state and not just a for-profit entity.”
Lowery participated in a panel discussion on the future of health care at the Sept. 19 Arkansas Health & Business Symposium, hosted by the University of Arkansas Walton Business College at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock.
“The patients will have a lot more power over their visits than they’ve had before,” Lowery says. “We will be able to link this video-conferencing software in so you can go in through the [UAMS] patient portal and look for a provider or schedule a visit online.”
Ideally, the providers will be able to see the patient’s chart on the screen while they are engaging in the virtual appointment. While the software will offer convenience and flexibility for both parties, there are still some questions about how effective it will be without the opportunity to physically touch the patient.
“It’s not like being in the same room as somebody,” Lowery says. “But it can help.”
Even if the patient has to make the trip to a clinic for further testing, the hospitals want to employ predictable models to make the experience just as efficient as in-home treatment. Because of providers’ access to patient records of all kinds, today’s practitioners have an abundance of information they one day may be able to plug into a machine to assess parameters and guide them through treatment.
Though there is less autonomy with a systems approach, clinicians will be highly involved and able to use these predictive models as guidelines to aid them in taking preventative approaches to treatment.
“At the very least, the machine can help check to make sure they aren’t missing stuff,” Lowery says. He believes this aspect of digital health care could help hospitals save money and help more people.
“In a fee-for-service world, providers get paid for doing things and the hospitals get paid for admitting people to the hospital and so it’s a volume, consumption-based care,” Lowery says. “By negotiating value-based contracts for which providers are rewarded for not spending unnecessary money, hospitals — especially valuable rural clinics and partners — could potentially thrive in a way like they never have before.”