Offering new technology

Technology is transforming healthcare just as it has transformed everything else. New telecommunications technologies have great potential to improve access to care and improve health outcomes, plus lower costs. Humana has embarked on more than a dozen pilot programs to test the possibilities, and preliminary results are promising.

Telemedicine: remote patient examinations

Physician-to-patient telemedicine experiences aren’t meant to replace in-person visits. But they certainly have the potential to be an important means for diagnosing routine ailments, providing follow-up care and managing chronic disease.

Telemedicine can also save money and make care more convenient. A person in a rural town could consult with a big-city specialist. For example, a person with a chronic condition and a history of frequent emergency room use could confer first with a physician via home computer or tablet.

In the first quarter of 2014, Humana embarked on two telemedicine pilots:

  • Telemedicine clinics in retail locations: A patient visits an on-site clinic where a nurse assists the remote, off-site physician by taking the person’s vital signs and positioning the video equipment.
  • A telemedicine suite for employees: A model similar to the above, but in a workplace setting (Humana employees). The telemedicine site serves as an extension of a physician-staffed health center at another location.

A number of other projects—including pilots with hospitals and integrated health systems—are in development. The goal: partner with providers to help them expand their capabilities, which will help our members as well.

Telehealth: remote patient monitoring

For patients suffering from debilitating chronic conditions, one major challenge is staying out of the hospital. Receiving care at home improves quality of life and saves money at the same time. Humana is testing different kinds of remote monitoring technologies and their usefulness to different groups within the Medicare population. “I am a believer that telehealth will transform how we take care of people,” says Dr. Eric Rackow, president of Humana at Home, who is leading the effort for Humana.

Here are a few examples of Humana’s remote-monitoring pilots.

  • Remote biometric monitoring of people with chronic conditions: Daily remote monitoring of blood pressure and weight can indicate whether a person with congestive heart failure is in stable health or needs medical attention.
  • Motion sensors in the home: These devices indicate how much a person is up and about, or in need of help.
  • Case management e-visits: A visual check-in with a caregiver via computer or other electronic device for routine communications is quicker, less expensive, and can be done more frequently than face-to-face visits.
  • Interactive voice response: People with diabetes or heart conditions report their symptoms by phone every week by responding to pre-recorded, yes-and-no questions. Certain answers cause an alert to be sent to a care manager, who immediately follows up.
  • Personal emergency response systems: “PERS,” as they are called, are lightweight battery-powered devices people wear around their necks, or on their belts, or put in a pocket. When the button is pushed, or when the device senses a fall, an emergency response is transmitted to whomever the wearer has predetermined.