By Greg Slabodkin

We all want access to quality health care, especially as we enter our senior years. However, a recent Buffalo News article reported that Western New York is one of the worst-performing areas of the country when it comes to measures of health care quality established by Medicare, our nation’s health insurance program for people age 65 or older.

Under new rules, hospitals face penalties from Medicare for readmissions within 30 days of discharge. In addition, Medicare is penalizing or rewarding hospitals based on their performance on basic quality measures and patient satisfactions. Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of Buffalo hospitals have been penalized and not enough rewarded compared to medical facilities in other parts of the country.

Nationally, on average, 48 percent of hospitals received a penalty and 52 percent a bonus, according to The News article. Nevertheless, when it comes to quality measures, a whopping 92 percent of hospitals in Buffalo received a penalty and only 8 percent got a bonus.

These results might be different if our local hospitals implemented remote monitoring, video conferencing and other telemedicine services to combat the problem of readmissions. The potential benefits of adopting these telecommunications technologies include reducing hospitalizations and health care costs, while improving patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes.

The American Telemedicine Association estimates that more than 10 million Americans directly benefited from telemedicine in 2012, more than double the number three years ago. Currently, more than 1 million Americans receive remote cardiac monitoring, a tremendously helpful application given the high number of hospital readmissions for heart failure within 30 days of discharge. These are largely preventable, and cost Medicare $6 billion annually.

Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Health recently conducted a pilot program in which remote video conferencing between nurses and discharged patients with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease helped to reduce readmissions by 75 percent. And, a Department of Veterans Affairs national home telehealth program demonstrated a 25 percent reduction in the number of days of bed care and a 19 percent reduction in admissions.

Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University is testing video conferencing for home-bound patients. The system is being studied in two neighborhoods with high-speed bandwidth, allowing doctors to monitor patients at home and to evaluate their conditions on an ongoing basis.

If Cleveland can implement video conferencing, Buffalo hospitals can do the same. There is an even greater need for this kind of technological change right here in our own back yard.

Greg Slabodkin of Kenmore is editor of the online publication FierceMobile-Healthcare.