Think about everything a senior with significant health issues must go through to see a doctor. They schedule an appointment, arrange for travel, and then take all the risks involved to get out of their home to get the care they need. Now consider how this scenario could be different from telemedicine or telehealth. The individual can get the health care they need quickly and without leaving the house.
Home health is any level of care provided by a professional in the home, whether physical therapy, general nursing care, or some other form of care. About 4.5 million patients receive home health services per year, and the vast majority of these patients are elderly. Telemedicine is the act of using electronic communication devices to exchange medical information from one location to another, such as a patient’s home and a doctor’s office. When home health integrates with telehealth, it creates a comprehensive care plan with several advantages.
How Home Health Services Can Utilize Telehealth
Whether for geriatric patients or individuals with chronic care needs, telehealth can be used extensively to simplify services provided by home health care providers. Telemedicine for home health can mean everything from video conferencing to using high-tech sensors to monitor a patient’s health status remotely.
For example, a home health worker could set up a remote monitoring system in a patient’s home, including sensors and monitors, to remotely check patient vitals. This could prove advantageous because the care provider would get a broader look at patient vitals instead of the single snapshot they would typically get with a single in-home visit.
Advantages of Telemedicine for Home Health Care
For patients who rely on home health care, several advantages arise with the telehealth delivery model. The number one advantage for patients is convenience. The patient gains access to a care provider without having to travel from home. In a pilot program done by Senior Helpers and Capitol Coordinated Medicine and Curavi Health in Washington D.C. in 2019, patients also claimed they could see a doctor faster than usual when visiting in person.
A secondary advantage for patients is, through telehealth, patients may be able to retain their independence longer. Since patients have immediate access to medical care from their home, it becomes easier for them to get the care they need. A primary reason elderly patients enter a facility is that they need more intensive care, which can be difficult for an elderly individual living alone at home if doctor visits always require leaving the house.
For caregivers and home-care workers, as well as physicians, there are distinct advantages as well. Foremost, caregivers can get faster, more immediate access to expert medical advice when needed. For example, if it is suspected that the patient has pneumonia, a home health agent could connect remotely with the patient’s doctor, get a guided assessment, and decide whether to seek emergency care.
Primary physicians get the advantage of seeing more patients in a smaller time frame from their own office. Plus, the costs of office operation can reduce due to fewer in-house staffing demands. Therefore, remote care for home health generates both an effective and efficient care model for everyone involved, right down to practitioners.
Cost Reductions Associated with Telemedicine for Home Health
Reducing healthcare costs is always an ongoing discussion among patients and caregivers, and telemedicine for home health care could even help reduce certain costs for both.
While implementing new technology requires an investment, costs can be recouped. For example, one study showed that using hybrid telehealth technology in nursing homes needed an initial investment, but reduced costs associated with patient transport. In that study, this alone could yield $479 million in savings every year for all nursing homes collectively in the United States.
Diverted emergency room visits yielded savings anywhere from $309 to $1,500 per instance in one study of a telemedicine program. When patients utilize telemedicine for home health objectives, it is far less likely that they will be taken to an emergency room by a caregiver only to be sent back home with further home-care instructions.
Final Thoughts: Is Telehealth for Home Health Care Part of the Future?
With everything considered, telemedicine could quickly become an integral part of home health care services. Several hurdles previously existed, such as getting insurance companies on board, so reimbursement protocols work the same for telehealth as in-home visits. However, changes are being made already to make telemedicine a more concrete form of medical care, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Medicare has covered some telehealth services like wellness checkups since 2015. However, in 2019, Medicare expanded coverage for things like acute stroke symptoms and other ailments. In 2020 due to COVID, Medicare expanded coverage further to cover most medically reasonable visit purposes. Most insurance companies now recognize what is referred to as Modifier 95 inpatient billing, which means the service was rendered through telemedicine systems.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has also used telemedicine for treating veterans with mobility challenges in the past. However, they upped their efforts to provide these services during COVID-19 and saw an 800 percent increase in both phone and video treatments. As telehealth evolves and new technology becomes available, it is easy to anticipate that it will grow as a more acceptable form of medical treatment. Therefore, telemedicine for home health could quickly become the norm in our technologically advanced society.