In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elara Caring has announced it will be rolling out telephonic home visits and telehealth services for its skilled home health and hospice patients.
Elara Caring is making the move to solve a number of pain points related to the coronavirus outbreak, including an industry-wide personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage. Turning to telehealth will also help ease clients’ anxieties around allowing caregivers into their homes, the company hopes.
“We are starting with those visits that allow us to provide adequate care to people we serve in their homes,” Scott Powers, CEO of Elara Caring, told Home Health Care News. “The safety of patients and clinicians is first and foremost.”
Addison, Texas-based Elara Caring was formed in 2018, the result of the merger between three large home health, hospice and personal care companies. Today, the company has 225 locations across 16 states and serves more than 60,000 patients.
Moving forward, the company’s telehealth services will be made available through a partnership with Health Recovery Solutions (HRS), a Hoboken, New Jersey-based telehealth company that provides medical centers and home care agencies with a comprehensive remote monitoring platform.
Helping in-home care providers lower hospital readmissions is HRS’s calling card. But lately, the company has also started to offer tech packages specifically designed for COVID-19.
Elara Caring had been in talks with HRS prior to the coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic, though, accelerated those conversations, according to Powers.
“We had been piloting [HRS’s] solutions for several months, and this crisis really just accelerated the scaling of that relationship,” he said. “This relationship isn’t the result of COVID-19, but it has deepened and further solidified the partnership.”
Elara Caring will begin its telehealth push by launching services in the Northeast region. Then, it will progressively expand services across its 16-state footprint over the next few weeks.
The company chose to begin providing services in the Northeast because it is largely considered the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Powers. As of Wednesday, the state of New York, for example, had more than 6,000 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins data.
Among perceived benefits, providing more telehealth services will allow Elara Caring to maintain its PPE supply at a time health care providers across the U.S. are experiencing a shortage.
Nationwide, about 88% of medical personnel report a lack of PPE, according to a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“PPE is a scarce resource, so it really enables us to preserve more of our supply for those patients with critical needs,” Powers said. “Also, we have clinicians who are quarantined — this allows them to provide care remotely.”
Another issue telehealth allows the company to address is easing clients’ fears about allowing clinicians into their homes, according to Powers.
“There is a certain amount of anxiety that patients are having, in terms of allowing people into their home,” he said. “We believe this alleviates much of that while allowing us to get care to patients much more rapidly than we have in the past.”
Despite clear benefits, the general lack of reimbursement under Medicare has been a hindrance to widespread home health implementation of telehealth tools.
But with the global COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth reimbursement under Medicare is in the spotlight now more than ever.
Currently, a telehealth home health visit still doesn’t count as an in-person visit and can’t be reimbursed at an equal rate under Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) statues. However, telehealth services can now be used in conjunction with in-person visits more broadly, thanks to new flexibilities announced on Monday.
Additionally, if telehealth services are included in a physician’s plan of care, then home health providers may be able to receive some sort of contracted rate.
For Elara Caring, care takes precedence over reimbursement, Powers said.
Even so, the company has been keeping a close eye on what allowances have been made for providers, he noted.
“It’s our understanding that CMS has given us a certain degree of flexibility,” Powers said. “There are rules within the current [Patient-Driven Groupings Model] construct that provide some flexibility around homebound status, physician orders, and OASIS timelines. We’ve been analyzing this and believe CMS has really stepped up. We believe we will be able to do these visits and find a way to get paid for them.”
Looking ahead, Elara Caring is confident in its ability to handle the company’s current caseload via telehealth services.
“We believe somewhere between 40% or 50% of our existing caseload can be done via telehealth, but we will know more as we grow this operationally, state by state,” Powers said.