The use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring technologies skyrocketed during the initial COVID-19 surges, then hit a plateau. But even with some degree of leveling off, telehealth use has still increased by more than 38 times since pre-pandemic baselines.
Despite reimbursement roadblocks, home health providers have been among the biggest adopters of telehealth. AccentCare, for example, expanded its existing telehealth initiatives over the past 16 months to fill gaps in care and help hospitals send people home sooner.
One of the largest home health and hospice providers in the nation, the Dallas-based AccentCare has more than 250 locations in over 30 states. It serves over 200,000 individuals and employs over 30,000 in-home care professionals.
At first, AccentCare leaders thought there would be some difficulties getting patients to embrace telehealth. That didn’t end up being the case, however.
“I’m going to stand here a little bit with egg on my face and say that I was one of the big naysayers at first that said, ‘[Home health] patients do not have the ability to use this type of technology routinely,’” Dave Davis, chief clinical innovation officer at AccentCare, said earlier this month. “And then I got proved completely wrong.”
Davis spoke on an “ROI of telehealth” panel at the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) Financial Management Conference.
“Whether they were seeing their primary care [doctors], their specialists or others, they were using similar types of technology. Many of them got very accustomed to it, very used to it,” he added. “Their caregivers got very accustomed to it. As a consumer of home health and hospice with my parents, I got very accustomed to it.”
AccentCare has leaned on telehealth in a variety of ways.
Some of its telehealth efforts have specifically been centered around wound care, personal care and speech therapy, Davis explained. The multi-state post-acute care provider has also made telehealth a core part of its hospital-reduction program.
To better understand telehealth’s impact, AccentCare actually teamed up with Brittain-Kalish Group to study the differences between in-person-only visits and hybrid visits, which include both in-person and virtual visits. The study included nearly 1,400 patients, 314 of whom were part of the “hybrid” group.
The big takeaway: Patients in the hybrid model had significantly fewer hospitalizations in both 30-day and 60-day time periods. Patients in the hybrid model also showed substantially more improvement across a variety of measures, including medication management, ambulation and pain mitigation.
In the near term, Davis believes the use of telehealth in home health care will continue, especially if the Delta variant leads to another wave.
“It’s going to become very important again,” he said. ”Everybody sees the news. They see the headlines. We know what’s coming. Hopefully, it will not be nearly as tragic as the last surge and losses that we had.”
Telehealth will likely stick around on a more long-term basis as well, particularly if legislation like the Choose Home Care Act of 2021 comes to pass.
“It’s a requirement,” Davis said. “You have to be able to offer something like this if you’re going to participate in that program.”