Throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, telehealth has emerged as a key solution for home health providers looking to curb the spread of the coronavirus and preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) amid a national shortage.
CommonSpirit Health at Home — already no stranger to telehealth tools — recently announced that it has expanded its virtual monitoring capabilities.
Formerly CHI Health at Home, CommonSpirit Health at Home is a Milford, Ohio-based health care organization that provides home care, home infusion, home respiratory care, hospice and medical transportation services with 40 locations across 10 states.
While the company initially saw a decline in home health patients due to a drop in elective procedures related to COVID-19, it has since seen an influx of chronic disease management patients.
In order to beef up its telehealth offerings, CommonSpirit Health at Home has launched a remote biomonitoring program, which utilizes a new mobile app, voice platform or tablet provided by the company to track a patient’s vital signs.
“We are using [telehealth] for a number of at-risk patients that are coming out of the hospital and monitoring their status on a daily basis, intervening when we see any decline,” Rod Plunkett, vice president of population health management at CommonSpirit Health at Home, told Home Health Care News.
For CommonSpirit Health at Home, making sure that the majority of its patient population is taking advantage of these services is important, as many individuals don’t have access to acute services during the COVID-19 emergency, according to Plunkett.
“We have specific hubs of telehealth nurses who are responsible for each of the branches in our region,” he said. “We are trying to initiate telehealth with as many patients as we can, not just COVID-19 patients, but our chronic disease management patients who are at risk during this.”
One major benefit of telehealth is an increased capacity to see more patients. It has also allowed CommonSpirit Health at Home to limit in-person visits, according to Plunkett.
The organization has doubled down on its telehealth strategy despite the fact reimbursement still remains a barrier for home health providers. The reasoning is simple: telehealth services are crucial to providing care in the present, according to Plunkett.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) granted some Medicare providers and practitioners more flexibility around telehealth and billing on Thursday, but home health providers have largely been left out of the picture.
Some states have secured additional telehealth flexibility through Medicaid as well.
“CMS has given us some leeway with the 1135 waivers, some latitude in using virtual visits, and they have relaxed [what constitutes] homebound status,” Plunkett said. “They haven’t agreed to pay for visits or allowed them to count as a billable visit. Other payers — state Medicaid programs and some commercial payers — are allowing virtual visits to count toward billable visits.”
For CommonSpirit Health at Home, telehealth costs have mostly come out of pocket, as only three of the states the company operates in provide coverage under Medicaid, according to Plunkett.
“It’s part of our cost of doing business,” he said.
In addition to its remote biomonitoring offering, CommonSpirit Health at Home launched a new medication delivery and management service.
The service allows patients to have prepacked envelopes with the date and time of each dosage delivered to their home. As part of the service, the medication refills are coordinated by the company.
Looking ahead, CommonSpirit Health at Home is preparing itself for a possible surge of patients that emerge during the COVID-19 emergency.
CMS recently rolled out a set of guidelines that could set the stage for health systems to begin performing elective procedures again. Historically, home health providers have cared for a large number of patients post-surgery — giving providers a financial boost.
“Some of the states that we are in have started elective procedures again,” Plunkett said. “We will see if there is a secondary surge of patients after this starts.”