The COVID-19 pandemic has given home-based care providers a renewed urgency for telehealth adoption, and national accreditor Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC) has a new distinction to honor the agencies leading the way.
In compliance with the highest national standards for patient care, privacy and safety, ACHC’s new Distinction in Telehealth offers an additional recognition to agencies that utilize telehealth technology to deliver care for patients with acute or chronic conditions. More broadly, earning the distinction certifies an agency’s dedication to delivering consistent, quality care and enhancing business efficiencies.
“Telehealth is quickly becoming the new norm in home health,” says ACHC Associate Clinical Director Susan Mills. “ACHC recognizes the value telehealth offers for improving access to care, reducing hospital readmissions, minimizing risk and lowering costs for providers and patients.”
ACHC collaborated with Health Recovery Solutions (HRS), a leading national provider of telehealth and remote patient monitoring solutions, to develop the accreditation distinction.
Here is a look at why the distinction matters and how agencies can earn it.
Home health’s telehealth boom
ACHC’s new telehealth distinction comes during a year in which telehealth usage has grown dramatically.
In the first month of the pandemic alone, telehealth usage skyrocketed, with 1.7 million Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries receiving telemedicine in the final week of April. Prior to the pandemic, the average weekly total was just 13,000 beneficiaries.
In June, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed to make permanent home health telehealth flexibilities that were launched due to the coronavirus, and while Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services is not yet available, providers are embracing telehealth as a loss leader and even finding reimbursement through creative billing for palliative care services.
A July 2020 survey from Home Health Care News and Citus Health showed that 69% of responding home health and hospice providers adopted telehealth for the first time since the start of the pandemic, with 39% of respondents planning to adopt or enhance their telehealth capabilities over the coming year.
All of these trends led ACHC to launch its new honor.
“Telehealth isn’t just about swapping out a live visit for a remote one,” Mills says. “It’s about enhancing care by maximizing and optimizing resources and meeting the patient where he or she is.”
How agencies can earn the distinction: two big changes
To earn the distinction, a provider must be accredited by ACHC in one of six programs, including home health and hospice. The other four areas of accreditation that meet the criteria for the distinction are ambulatory care, behavioral health, private duty and renal dialysis.
Examples of telehealth pertinent to the distinction include remote patient monitoring, biometrics, virtual visits, or health education. ACHC telehealth standards are based on the American Telemedicine Association’s Home Telehealth Clinical Guidelines.
The process by which an agency earns the distinction is, not surprisingly, thorough. Agencies are evaluated based on 18 telehealth standards, all done via a one-day virtual or on-site survey in which the ACHC surveyor reviews the telehealth experience of three patients. The surveyor will observe a clinician making a telehealth visit if one is scheduled during the survey. There is also a review of personnel records along with P&Ps and QAPI related to telehealth.
This September, FirstHealth Home Care of West End, North Carolina, completed the survey process to become the first home health company to earn the distinction.
“Patients today are choosing their providers, in part, based on the availability and use of technology to help them manage their health,” says Connie Christopher, director of FirstHealth. “The Distinction in Telehealth from ACHC sets FirstHealth Home Care apart from other home health agencies and has helped us to take an already top-performing program to a new level.”
For agencies seeking the distinction, there are two big changes on how they conduct their telehealth program. First, each agency must have a designated telehealth manager. This person, or people, provides oversight for all telehealth activities, including, but not limited to:
— Ensuring the development and implementation of telehealth policies and procedures, including a method to verify staff competence and compliance
— Managing inventory
— Coordinating referrals and the client/patient enrollment process, ensuring selection of equipment meets the requirements specific to client/patient needs
— Ensuring staff is properly trained and competent in the use of telehealth equipment
— Presenting specific reports, as needed, that describe program outcomes and progress toward goals
Second, agencies must develop written telehealth policies and procedures. These include, but are not limited to:
— Patient inclusion and exclusion criteria for every type of telehealth service line, detailing who is eligible and listing each type of technology
— Identifying patients who require special assistance prior to installing a telehealth device
— Procedures for patient enrollment and setup
“The staffing advantages to a robust telehealth program cannot be overstated,” Mills says. “When agencies do telehealth right, they also ensure that patients meet with the most appropriate staff members — a boon to the staff experience, too.”
Finalizing the distinction: A marketing advantage
Attaining the ACHC Distinction in Telehealth gives organizations a reliable way to gain recognition for providing a higher level of care. This certified commitment to excellence can strengthen patient trust and confidence, giving agencies a distinct advantage over their competitors.
“This distinction reassures patients that they are doing business with an agency that understands the true value of telehealth,” Mills says. “Earning the distinction provides a clear message to patients: We are meeting the highest standards of telehealth practice because we know how vital it is.”
Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC) is a nonprofit accreditation organization that has stood as a symbol of quality and excellence since 1986. To learn more about earning a Distinction in Telehealth, visit ACHC.org.