stethoscope on money
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It’s the holy grail for healthcare providers: a tool that can cut costs and deliver better patient care.

At least one telehealth program appears to achieve this elusive outcome for older adults living with dementia, according to researchers.

Their findings could provide a roadmap for how to offer similar programs to seniors.

The study, which came from the University of California San Francisco and their Care Ecosystem option,  involved just under 800 people living with dementia. It compared costs and treatment between the Care Ecosystem against participants’ existing care. 

Participants’ Medicare costs were approximately $500 lower per month under UCSF’s program, the study found.

Published last week in JAMA Internal Medicine, the study focused exclusively on the cost-saving component, but prior studies that UCSF conducted showed that the program improved patients’ quality of life and also helped their caregivers. It was shown to halve the rate of caregivers’ depression, possibly due to a lessened care burden.

The program coordinates care options by telephone or online via a care team navigator who is trained to screen for dementia-related needs and provide support. 

This coordination may help participants avoid unnecessary visits to the emergency department, study author Elan Guterman, MD, said in a statement. 

UCSF’s telecare program will be available to assisted living residents living with dementia, as well as people who live in their homes in the greater community, if they are covered by Medicare fee-for-service or have dual Medicare and Medicaid eligibility as of July 2024, the university announced. Overall, the Care Ecosystem program has been in place since 2014.

“We wanted to design a model of care that can reach dementia patients wherever they live,” Kate Possin, PhD, care ecosystem director, states in a video about the program. “In dementia, the needs are complex: medical, social, legal, financial. So you need a multidisciplinary team to manage all those issues that may arise.”

UCSF will receive funding from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under the newly launched Guiding an Improved Dementia Experience Model, or GUIDE, model.