Health Care Providers Using Telehealth, Partnerships To Break into Home Health Sector

With spending projected to reach $173 billion by 2026, the home health industry is booming like never before. As such, a growing number of health care providers want a piece of the pie.

To make it happen, they’re harnessing telehealth and partnerships with home-based care providers to enter the sector, according to a new home health care report from research service Business Insider Intelligence.

“[Health care] providers that don’t develop home health care infrastructure risk falling behind the nearly half of health firms already investing in new tools and care models to deliver home-based care,” the report argues. “Providers are making key investments in analytics, telehealth and staffing to prepare for the rise of home healthcare and stave off competition in the space.”

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These days, home-based care is no longer confined to post-acute follow-up visits.

For example, in December, the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) launched a new program to bring hospital-level care into patients’ homes. Similarly, Denver-based DispatchHealth is bringing mobile urgent care to 10 markets across the country.

“We expect the home healthcare market to grow rapidly and compose a greater share of overall healthcare utilization in the coming years, and we really think [home health] an area that providers should invest in now,” research analyst Nicky Lineaweaver told Home Health Care News in an email.

One way to fill gaps in service is by forming partnerships with existing home health agencies, the report suggests. A growing number of health systems are choosing this route as a way to avoid financial and workforce challenges while leveraging economies of scale.

Meanwhile, telehealth is another avenue health care providers are considering — though it’s undervalued. As of 2016, only 15% of physicians worked in practices that used telemedicine to interact with patients, according to the report.

One hospital system pursuing both — partnerships and telehealth —  is Geisinger Health System, whose home-based care model facilitated by telehealth cut monthly costs per member by $500 and reduced hospital admissions by 43%, the report outlines.

Earlier this year, Geisinger Health System announced a joint venture agreement with LHC Group (Nasdaq: LHCG).

When the deal is finalized, Lafayette, Louisiana-based LHC Group will take majority ownership and management responsibility of Pennsylvania-based Geisinger’s home health and hospice services, as well as Geisinger affiliate AtlantiCare’s New Jersey locations.

Currently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) largely restricts telehealth reimbursement to clinical settings in rural areas, with certain exceptions in Alaska and Hawaii. That regulatory stance has encouraged the use of telehealth in skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) operating in sparsely populated markets, but it has mostly shut out the home health industry and slowed providers’ innovation pace, past HHCN reporting has found.

CMS proposed a rule in October to give MA plans more flexibility to offer government-funded telehealth benefits to all enrollees, regardless of whether they live in rural or urban areas. The proposal — which would go into effect for the 2020 plan year if finalized — would additionally allow MA enrollees to receive telehealth services from home.

Despite the roadblocks, home health providers — and even home care franchise companies — appear to be ramping up their use of telehealth tools of late.

Earlier in March, North Carolina-based Well Care Home Health announced it had reduced its all-cause telehealth readmission rate by 61% in 2018 using remote patient monitoring software from technology provider Health Recovery solutions.

In February, FirstLight Home Care announced it had struck a new partnership with HNC Virtual Solutions, a global telemedicine software company, to offer telehealth solutions in the homes of its clients.

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