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I’ve talked on the telepresence blog about how telepresence can help bring healthcare to those who would otherwise go without. But the technology can also play an important role with those people who do receive treatment: it can help teach them to manage their care at home and prevent return trips to the hospital.

According to a recent Washington Post article, the U.S. Department of Education conducted a study that revealed that 36 percent of adults have only rudimentary literacy skills for understanding health material. An estimated 14 percent of these adults struggle with complete illiteracy. Another 52 percent of the total adult population has intermediate skills, meaning they can interpret and follow basic drug administration directions, while only 12 percent of the population has attained proficiency in reading, understanding, and following what the doctor or pharmacist says.

The nation’s limited health literacy costs us as much as $238 billion each year in hospital re-admissions and treating avoidable complications, the article said. To remedy these problems, hospitals and health plans have begun to implement technology to help identify and simplify confusing medical jargon that finds its way into written patient instructions.

But what about the 14 percent who can’t read at all? The Post noted that some healthcare providers have started giving patients instructional videos or picture-filled handouts. While these are great tools for patients to have, telepresence provides even more: the visual of the videos, the detail of the pictures, and the human connection.

With telepresence a patient can talk to a provider in real time, ask personal questions, demonstrate for the doctor how they plan to take their medicine … the list goes on. I have to think catching up with patients here and there via telepresence would cost less—in dollars and hours—than readmitting, retesting, retreating, and re-instructing someone in the emergency room. Not to mention the decrease in anxiety for doctors and patients that would come with knowing people are properly managing their care.

Increased knowledge for patients, less frustration and repeat care for providers—sounds like a win-win to me.

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