When it comes to home health care, what’s old can be new again. The old home visit – once the primary way to see a doctor – has evolved into integrated, technology-enabled clinical programs with the potential to save money and improve outcomes.
But, according to new research released today by Current Health, a Best Buy company that offers a home care platform, the home care promise could face strong headwinds.
In a survey of more than 100 senior hospital and health system leaders, two-thirds said their organizations currently offer some type of home care service. Roughly the same proportion said they recognize that it is important or very important to invest in technology to enable home care services.
This latest iteration of home care began with the addition of telehealth visits, propelled by the pandemic. But home care programs are moving far beyond quick health checkups or remote therapy visits. They now often include remote monitoring and home services for people with chronic illnesses and those who are critically ill.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of leaders surveyed said their organizations offer specialist and primary care services remotely. Additionally, 44% currently offer chronic care management to patients at home, while 34% offer post-acute care or early discharge, and a further 32% would consider offering such services in the future. Nearly one in five (17%) already offer inpatient services at home, a trend spurred by the shortage of hospital beds caused by Covid-19 surges.
According to the survey results, clinical leaders see significant potential for these programs. More than two-thirds (69%) said that one of the main benefits of providing home care is reduced readmissions. Another 60% and 59%, respectively, recognized the decrease in hospitalizations and the reduction in the use of emergency services as the main benefits. Almost as many (56%) cited the opportunity to improve the patient experience, an area that other surveys have shown needs improvement. A smaller, but still significant, number of respondents identified additional benefits of home care services, such as reduced operating costs (37%), improved quality of patient care (31% ) and the ability to serve more patients (31%).
“Our survey found that health system leaders are enthusiastic about home care and believe it is often better for patients,” Current Health CEO Christopher McCann said in a statement released by the company. .
A quarter of respondents said home care programs can address staff bandwidth constraints and 16% said such programs can address staff burnout, a critical issue affecting doctors and nurses in the entire health system. Almost all (95%) of the leaders surveyed identified staff shortages as a general problem for their organizations.
Although some respondents see home care as a solution to overall labor shortages, many see staffing these programs as a major challenge. More than half (58%) of respondents said it is difficult or very difficult to find the workforce needed to staff home care programs.
Other potential barriers to implementing these programs include getting patients to use and adhere to the program, implementing the remote technology needed to support patients in their homes, obtaining from provider buy-in and setting up patients with the necessary tools and services.
When evaluating enabling technologies for home care services, 74% of leaders said ease of use for patients was important or very important. Other important features include technologies that integrate with existing clinical tools such as electronic health records, technical and logistical support, and reducing the burden on already overburdened healthcare providers.
This survey sheds light on the broader trend of health services moving from facilities to homes. According to McKinsey, up to 25% of the total cost of care for Medicare beneficiaries, or up to $265 billion, could shift from traditional care facilities to the home by 2025. This figure represents an increase from three to four times that of current levels of care provided at home.
McKinsey has identified several critical factors that could help or hinder the growth of home care services. As enabling technologies are increasingly available, as are the companies that provide and support these technologies, the success of home care may hinge on whether health insurers create financial incentives for providers to offer home care and whether physicians and patients themselves accept the return to home care.
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