Telemedicine Cuts Emergency Room Visits for Dementia Patients

A trial study in Los Angeles recently showed great promise for the use of telemedicine for dementia patients. While the results weren’t far-reaching, they were significant in their findings and will hopefully be followed up by more, larger studies and greater use of telemedicine for many types of ailments.

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine is a groundbreaking new approach toward healthcare. Instead of patients coming into a facility or hospital for care, tying up doctors and using resources, they can call or video in and have their issues assessed via an interview. When an issue arises that needs medical attention, the patient or caregiver can dial a special hotline and have a virtual meeting with a doctor. The doctor or nurse who answers the call will conduct an in-depth medical history and a complete physical assessment based on hospital protocols. All of the information will get uploaded into the patient’s electronic record for his physician to see. The clinician on the line will then make a decision whether or not the issue can get treated based on the interview or if the patient needs to come in for further evaluation. Even if the issue can be treated via the interview, the doctor can order tests and prescribe medications, so the patient can easily go to the next step without spending hours in the emergency room. Not only does this save the patient time, it saves the hospital time and precious resources. 

A study of telemedicine and dementia patients

The researchers who conducted the study followed the use of telemedicine from 22 facilities in the Los Angeles area for patients who had access through their geriatric practice. They covered 731 patients over a three and a half year period, 214 who used telemedicine and 517 who did not. All of these patients had been diagnosed with dementia, and the mean age was 86. 

Overall, there were 201 telemedicine calls, and a sharp decrease for the study group in emergency room visits – 24%, and hospital admissions – 25%. The researchers are very excited about what the results can mean for the future of telemedicine and how it can help patients get faster, more efficient care, without having to leave their homes.

These results were presented at the 2019 Alzheimer’s Association conference by Manish Shah, MD, MPH, who is a professor of emergency medicine and geriatrics as well as chair of emergency medicine research at The University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. He noted that “For the patient with dementia, taking them out of their familiar home environment to an emergency department is very disruptive and enough to throw off their equilibrium.” He said that dementia patients make more emergency visits than other patients, and at the same time, the emergency room itself can cause high stress for these patients.

With this in mind, the researchers for the study developed a particular program called “high intensity” telemedicine that takes into account all of the factors that make emergency visits necessary and gives the clinicians who answer the phone authoritative powers, so the likelihood of patients needing to physically come in is reduced. The results speak for themselves.

Sinai Post Acute Care offers an acute telemedicine program so our dementia patients, and all of our patients, have access to doctors in minutes from when they need it. When a physician is not in-house, they can still guide our clinicians to perform necessary examinations and can order tests and x-rays quickly, so patients can be treated quickly.