Approximately 4.5 million patients receive home health care in a given year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a significant increase in home health utilization over the past several months. And for good reason. Receiving care at home, rather than at a facility, can limit the spread of COVID-19, be used to support vulnerable patients with behavioral health needs, and even cut down on care costs.
Leveraging Home Health to Prevent Spread of COVID-19
According to the CDC, adults 65 years and older—particularly those with underlying medical conditions such as heart conditions or diabetes—are at a higher risk of severe illness and death related to COVID-19.
Because of the vulnerable populations they serve, skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes have been and continue to be at a higher risk of community spread. By leveraging home health when possible, care teams can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst high-risk patients and those that care for them.
Katherine Jimenez, Regional Director of Operations at Signature Healthcare at Home said the following in a recent press release:
“It’s so important that these vulnerable patients are treated in the isolation of their own homes whenever possible to minimize the community spread of COVID-19.”
Supporting Patients with Behavioral Health Needs
With the heightened isolation that hospitals and skilled nursing facilities require to limit the spread of COVID-19, patients are forced to face the recovery process without the usual support of friends and family. Courtney Enix, a senior resident who had been working in the ICU when COVID-19 was first detected in Seattle, shares with the New England Journal of Medicine:
“Watching patients spend their remaining days isolated and alone is devastating.”
For patients with family at home, receiving care in the home means receiving care surrounded by the comforts of family and in an environment that is both comfortable and familiar. This is especially true if those patients aren’t diagnosed with something contagious, like COVID-19, and can participate easily and safely in things like family meals. Having these social supports in place can make the path to recovery more bearable and—for those who will not recover—provide an end-of-life experience that feels connected instead of isolated.
For patients without family at home, remaining at home may bring behavioral and mental health concerns to the surface. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45 percent of adults in the US have experienced worsening mental health due to the pandemic. For homebound patients already experiencing isolation due to functional limitations, further isolation due to social distancing can exacerbate any existing mental health conditions.
According to Home Health Care News, many home health providers have already started focusing more heavily on identifying and supporting patients with mental health needs. Approaches range from redirecting resources to create an outreach team, leveraging telehealth, and expanding existing behavioral health units.
Cutting Down on Care Costs
In addition to mitigating both the physician and behavioral effects of the pandemic, home health can also be a cost saver by creating smoother care transitions and helping to prevent admissions and readmissions. According to one study, home health care has been associated with cost savings of nearly $5,400 per beneficiary as well as a savings of over $4,500 per beneficiary in Medicare payments.
Housecall Providers, a member of the CareOregon family, cares for 2,300 patients in the comfort (and safety) of their own homes. Housecall Providers participates in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Independence at Home (IAH) demonstration project, designed to show how effective home-based care can be by examining certain criteria, such as readmission rates.
In the first year of program participation, Housecall Providers was able to save Medicare $1.8 million in care costs by leveraging the power of real-time, ADT-based data to effectively manage transitions of care and coordinate care for vulnerable patients.
Housecall Providers continues to be one of the highest-performing IAH sites year after year, with savings ranging from 15.7 percent to 32 percent. These savings show how moving healthcare into the home can help provide much-needed support for complex patient populations that might otherwise rely on the emergency department due to physical, social or cognitive barriers.
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