ATA16: Reduced heart failure readmissions stemmed from telehealth network participation, providers say

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The reduction of readmission rates for heart failure patients is just one of the benefits touted by health system representatives of the Illinois Telehealth Network (ITN) on Tuesday at the American Telemedicine Association's annual conference in Minneapolis.

From 2010 to 2013, a pilot program geared toward helping post-acute cardiac disease patients and funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration helped 20 participant sites achieve all-cause, 30-day unplanned readmission rates of 12.9 percent for 844 patients; that compared to a national average all-cause readmission rate of 24.7 percent over the same time period.

Additionally, the unplanned 30-day readmission rate for heart failure only during that period was 4.3 percent for participating institutions.

"You cannot eliminate, and you should not eliminate, all readmissions for heart failure," Mark Stempehl (pictured), medical director of heart failure for HSHS St. John's Hospital in Springfield, Illinois, said of the results. "That would be irresponsible. ... This is just about as low as you can expect to have, and a number similar to what we've seen in other telemonitoring studies."

In light of its post-acute care results, another program, funded by the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation, was launched in 2015 with an eye on helping heart failure patients in outpatient settings. Overall, grant funding for active ITN projects totals more than $1 million, according to Gupreet Mander, chief medical officer at St. John's.

Despite such success, however, the organization will not always be able rely solely on grants, he said.

"The honest factor is that networks like ours at the early formative stage are going to live and die by grants," Mander said. "But at some point ... we have to work toward developing a sustainable business model, which doesn't rely on either private or public funding."

ITN expects to expand to 23 rural and urban hospital stakeholder participants throughout the state by next year. Currently, network members do not have to pay dues, and there is no requirement for exclusive participation, meaning members can participate in other similar initiatives as they choose.

Other benefits to membership, according to Mander, include collaborative support for telehealth service development, easier access to grant funding and opportunities for group purchasing.

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