Homeless Shelter Uses Telehealth to Reduce ER Visits

The return on investment of using telemedicine to treat homeless shelter clients is being measured by improvements in overall health, not dollars saved, according to the directors of an Omaha, NE shelter.

The shelter, called Open Doors Mission, partnered with an Omaha-based telehealth provider called Doc On to provide physician consultations to shelter clients who had previously relied on emergency department visits and 911 calls to receive primary care, Health Data Management reported. Doc On offers consultations—for free—twice a week to shelter clients. If consulting physicians decide medications are required for treatment, the shelter works to have them delivered.

Open Doors Mission has a medical clinic staffed by volunteer nurses and physicians, and sees about 200 patients per week. Doc On fills in twice a week when the clinic’s volunteer physicians are unable to see patients. Clinic officials estimate that the telehealth providers see one or two patients per hour.

Kate Fischer, director of the mission’s Free Health & Healing Clinic, told Health Data Management that its goal was to alleviate emergency department visits by the shelter’s clients.

“With Doc On, they don’t have to go to an ER because they just got out of jail and don’t have their blood pressure meds and it’s three weeks before they can get an appointment with their doctor. We can call Doc On, and the guests can get their meds that day,” Fischer said.

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