Use of telemedicine can decrease emergency department use by independent living and assisted living residents for their acute illnesses, according to a study newly published in the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

The researchers studied residents with dementia who were living in six senior living communities, were under the care of a primary care geriatrics practice and had access to “high-intensity” telemedicine services to diagnose and treat their illnesses. The high-intensity telemedicine program involved assistance from a trained telemedicine facilitator and captured more clinical detail than simple videoconferencing.

The researchers compared those residents’ ED use with the ED use of residents with dementia who were living in 15 other senior living communities in the Northeast but did not have access to the telemedicine services.

They found that residents who had access to telemedicine had a greater decrease in all ED visits over time, as well as a greater decrease in ED visits that resulted in hospitalization, compared with residents who did not have access to telemedicine. “In participants with dementia, it is estimated that 1 year of access to telemedicine services is associated with a 24% decrease in ED visits,” the authors wrote.

“Our findings are significant as we aim to improve the convenience and quality of care and decrease avoidable costs for patients with dementia who reside in senior living communities,” they said.

The investigators called for additional research to confirm their results and to understand the best ways to “implement and optimize” telemedicine for residents with dementia who have acute illnesses.