DispatchHealth announced Tuesday that it has teamed up with MultiCare — a Tacoma, Washington-based health system — to offer care through a new hospital-at-home program.
The news comes roughly two weeks after the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) made a major announcement about allowing “unprecedented” flexibilities when it comes to offering hospital-level care for patients in their homes.
As a company, Denver, Colorado-based DispatchHealth offers mobile high-acuity services through its emergency medicine-trained teams. Currently, the company operates in 18 states across the country.
MultiCare is a not-for-profit health care organization that includes seven hospitals across Washington state.
Through the new program, MultiCare patients will receive care services that include nursing, durable-medical-equipment delivery, physical therapy and care coordination. All of those are important pieces of the care puzzle, DispatchHealth CEO Dr. Mark Prather told Home Health Care News.
“Essentially, what occurs is that a patient with a medical condition that would warrant in-patient hospitalization, but meets criteria for the home, could be effectively admitted to the home and receive the same level of care,” Prather said. “We screen every patient for medical appropriateness, and we also screen the homes for environmental appropriateness.”
Patients in the program have access to a physician and registered nurse, plus direct access to the 911 system through DispatchHealth’s personal emergency response system. The system allows DispatchHealth to remotely monitor each individual patient 24/7.
“We provide that acute hospital phase, and sometimes that lasts anywhere from three to five days,” Prather said. “Our program also adds an additional layer of service, in that we continue to monitor our patients after the acute phase of their hospitalization. We continue to watch them anywhere from 14 to 30 days after they’ve been hospitalized in their home. That entails continued monitoring daily and check-ins by our nurse.”
DispatchHealth, which has raised more than $216.8 million since launching in 2013, views its role in the partnership as the provision of the technology and infrastructure, as well as the clinical physician and advanced practice provider labor.
One of the aims of the new program is to alleviate hospital capacity during the recent COVID-19 surge. DispatchHealth isn’t alone in this effort.
Throughout the public health emergency, a number of health care organizations have launched hospital-at-home or similar programs in an attempt to remove the burden on hospitals.
For DispatchHealth, it made sense to launch this program with longtime partner MultiCare because of the organizations’ progressive approach to care, as well as the health system’s aggressive move toward value-based care, according to Prather.
“[MultiCare’s] goal is to reduce total cost of care, and they view moving care into the home, as opposed to providing more care in the hospital setting, as an avenue for that,” he said. “That is perfectly aligned with our mission of movement of care into the home, and firing on all cylinders relative to the triple aim of lowering the cost of care, improving patient outcomes and improving patient satisfaction.”
DispatchHealth has an increased opportunity to treat more patients due to the recent Medicare hospital-at-home waiver, announced on Nov. 25. Plus, the company has attracted the attention of other hospitals and health systems that are looking to possibly form partnerships at this time, according to Prather.
Currently, there are at least seven hospital groups approved to offer hospital-at-home under CMS’s new waiver. MultiCare applied for this waiver last week.
“Although we’re in 29 markets across the country today, we have 14 strong hospital system partnerships — and that number is growing,” Prather said. “I think each hospital system is taking a look and seeing whether this meets their goals and their needs, but we are fielding those questions.”
While Prather believes CMS’s recent flexibility will further open the door for hospital-at-home — a concept that in the past has struggled to gain traction in the U.S. — he saw the model making a dent even before last week’s news.
“If you look at the medical literature, the rationale for a home hospitalization program is really compelling. … We’re going to look at this and say it’s just frankly better care and it’s at a much lower cost,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we do it?”
In addition to the launch of its hospital-at-home program, DispatchHealth is rolling out Clinic Without Walls with MultiCare.
Clinic Without Walls provides virtual care with additional hands-on support. This means a DispatchHealth medical technician helping a patient virtually connect with a MultiCare physician during a home visit.
Typically, the medical technician assists with a guided medical exam. For example, assessment of the lungs, ears or throat.
The program attempts to fill the care gaps that arise from more traditional telehealth programs.
“During the early stages of the pandemic, we certainly moved aggressively to telehealth visits,” Prather said. “There were some patients that weren’t addressed in that movement. Think of the patient who is memory-impaired or the very sick and polychronic patient. It’s hard to evaluate them over a video. Those are also the patients that are at most risk, in terms of COVID exposure, when we bring them into a clinic setting.”
Looking ahead, Prather expressed his excitement over what he sees as a larger movement toward care in the home setting.
“I think the desire to have care where we’re most comfortable has been there for quite some time, and now it’s much more obvious because of the pandemic,” he said.