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How Telemedicine Improves Burn Care

Hattie Hayes

Written by Hattie Hayes

Treatment for burns can be a challenge, thanks to slow recovery rates inherent to the type of injury. Keeping up with care is difficult even under ideal conditions, and readmission rates are high. The Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project estimates that almost 1 in 5 patients with burns or similar wounds are readmitted to the hospital. Patients with burns are among the most likely to need hospital readmission, especially if they're over 65. Rural patients face a similar challenge when it comes to continued burn care.

Luckily, burn centers across the country have almost perfected the use of telemedicine in burn care, both for initial consults and ongoing treatment. Burn care has been defined as a growth field for telemedicine. In one survey, 84% of burn care units reported using telemedicine, and 74% said they use telemedicine routinely. Telemedicine has proven to be an effective tool for monitoring recovery of burn injuries that's still convenient for patients.

Initially, the use of telemedicine in burn care sought to expand the number of burn beds in trauma centers during emergencies. Video telemedicine works well for burn triage, which is crucial in situations where multiple patients will need burn care. It's a cost-saving measure, in that regard--emergency transportation racks up a bill fast. If patients can consult with a burn specialist via telemedicine, they may be able to skip a $10,000 ride in a helicopter, which saves money and frees up resources for more serious injuries.

As telemedicine proved its value for initial burn consultations, it became obvious that the technology is part of an effective strategy for continued burn care. The travel cost savings for patients can total hundreds of dollars, especially for patients in rural regions. This is especially impactful for small or non-severe burns which do need treatment, but can be addressed at home with simple, topical first aid. It also saves patients costs related to readmission rates, since instances of infection and debridement can be caught early on and addressed before escalating. In general, telemedicine is extremely effective for avoiding hospital readmission, consistently reducing readmission rates by around 50%.

Despite any reservations about treating burn injuries remotely, physicians have found telemedicine to be very accurate for evaluation. In fact, both live video telemedicine and asynchronous, store-and-forward methods have been successful for telemedicine burn treatment, particularly for primary care physicians dealing with small, everyday burns. Asynchronous care is especially favorable for long-term follow-up evaluation. Both video and store-and-forward telemedicine also prevent exposure to potential sources of infection within an office setting.

Physicians and patients both find telemedicine to be a satisfying treatment option for burn care. Whether you're an emergency room physician seeking consultations in an emergency, a primary care provider dealing with everyday injuries, or a burn center doctor making your resources more accessible across your region, you can find value in telemedicine. In fact, one survey of burn centers found that 80% of burn center directors surveyed indicated that they would like programming on telemedicine to be available at American Burn Association's annual meetings. Take a look at the American Telemedicine Association's practice guidelines for tele burn care, and take the next steps to improve your burn care strategy!


Have you used telemedicine in burn care? We'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Published: March 9, 2016