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Colorado Health Care Moves into Digital Age


Monday, November 28, 2016   

DENVER – Colorado doctors are bringing old school home visits into the digital age, thanks to advances in technology and a new state law.

Telehealth – a combination of telephone, video and other online tools – reduces travel time for doctors and patients, can connect rural residents to specialists, and could curb rising health care costs.

Daniel Warvi, a regional public affairs officer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, says it's one way providers can deliver critical care to veterans where they live.

"You're not going to find a skilled endocrinologist who is familiar with Agent Orange related morbidities, who also is a specialist in certain types of pharmacological treatments, in the smaller towns in America," he points out.

A Colorado Health Institute trial found telehealth outcomes were just as good as in-person visits in most cases, and even better for nursing and cardiology care.

A new Colorado law guaranteeing equal payments for remote and in-person visits goes into effect next year and is expected to allow more people to see a doctor from the comfort of home.

A 2015 Harvard study found an average doctor appointment, including travel time and waiting, takes more than two hours, with only 20 minutes spent with the doctor.

Brent Bowman, vice president of strategy and patient experience with Kaiser Permanente Colorado, says saving time is a big draw for many, but some patients and physicians remain skeptical. He adds replacing in-person visits with a video screen isn't appropriate in all cases.

"When you have that trust, you're willing to engage, I think, in alternative forms of meeting the care needs, including video visits or telehealth,” he states. “When you don't have that relationship, I think you're reticent as a patient to engage for the first time in that way.”

Bowman says people are more likely to be OK with telehealth after an initial in-person visit, and notes that virtual interactions have now surpassed traditional visits at Kaiser.

Colorado's safety-net clinics are also looking to expand telehealth as another tool to integrate medical, behavioral, dental and other care in the patient-centered home model.

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