Effects of a Nursing Home Telehealth Program on Spending and Utilization for Medicare Residents

Effects of a Nursing Home Telehealth Program on Spending and Utilization for Medicare Residents

Published: Jan 18, 2022
Publisher: Health Services Research (online ahead of print)
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Authors

Lauren Vollmer Forrow

Katie Morrison Lee

Randall Brown

Objective

To assess the effects of eLongTermCare (eLTC), a telehealth program implemented by an integrated health system in 45 nursing homes across the Midwest, on the use of acute hospital services and total expenditures for Medicare residents.

Data Sources

Minimum Data Set, Medicare fee-for-service claims, and enrollment data from 2013 to 2018.

Study Design

We used a longitudinal difference-in-differences design to estimate the changes in outcomes for treatment beneficiaries before and after participating in the eLTC program, relative to changes for the matched comparison beneficiaries over the same period. We measured outcomes over a 24-month follow-up period, including total Medicare spending, emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations, and the likelihood of readmission.

Data Collection/Extraction Methods

Using administrative data, we identified treatment beneficiaries who stayed at participating nursing facilities during the program period and matched comparison beneficiaries with similar baseline characteristics from non-participating facilities in the same geographic locations.

Principal Findings

For long-term care residents, the eLTC program led to an estimated reduction of 73 ED visits per 1,000 beneficiaries (p<0.01, 8.6 percent effect) over the two-year follow-up period. The estimated effects for this group were concentrated among beneficiaries who entered the nursing home after program startup, with sizable reductions in hospitalizations, ED visits, and spending. For skilled care residents, the program was associated with an estimated reduction of 85 ED visits per 1,000 beneficiaries (p=0.03, 9.7 percent effect), but had no discernible effect on their hospitalizations or total Medicare spending.

Conclusions

Telehealth can be a valuable tool for nursing homes to enhance care coordination and provide timely access to care, leading to lower spending for nursing home residents. Future research needs to explore payment methods that encourage telehealth expansion in nursing homes.

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