There wasn’t a single healthcare provider not impacted tremendously by COVID. As the whole braced for and rode the waves of confusion and fear in the wake of a pandemic, our first line of defense – healthcare providers – had to bravely dive into the unknown. Meanwhile, everything about their profession, their policies, and their means to help patients was under the microscope. The definition of “essential workers” varied by state, and unfortunately drew a line in the sand when it came to who could effectively remain on the front lines to fight. In hindsight (always 20/20, right?), this left behind an incredibly strategic group of healthcare providers: Home Health Agencies (HHAs).

Not all states excluded Home Health Agencies from their definition of Essential Workers (initially or ever), but many did. Sure, the idea of going into another person’s home during lockdown didn’t seem intuitive. But consider the potential implications of either ambulating a patient from a care facility or home care, or bringing more folks into hospitals and care settings as infection rates increased? While we absolutely don’t envy those who had to make so many of these early, critical calls, what has been interesting to observe is how many of the post-pandemic issues facing home health providers are representative of long-standing pain points for specialists that many patients rely on for their health and well-being.

Home Care Delivery Requires Nimble Technology that Enables Quality Care

A unique aspect of home health care delivery is the reality that providers must show up with all the tools and supplies necessary to provide care outside of a hospital or clinical setting. There isn’t a storeroom of disposables or PPE, no network to tap into for records and referrals.

A May 2021 article from the Office of The Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reporting findings from surveys collected not only from HHAs directly, but also advocacy groups working on their behalf and available literature to report how home care was faring post-pandemic. One of the pain points that surfaced in response to the changing climate of healthcare is the increased need for fast communication among home care providers and their agencies. From trying to comply with the most current prevention recommendations to keeping providers in the field equipped with access to medical information for their patients, the lack of a physical hub means that technology is leaned on even more heavily to facilitate mobile patient care.

On-prem solutions and point-to-point connections are not going to unleash the kind of flexibility and empowerment that HHAs need to serve patients exactly where they are…quite literally. Tapping into a care network, accessible on any device with WiFi, is the kind of solution that benefits healthcare providers wherever they need to go to cultivate better outcomes and improve quality of life. After all, chronic conditions don’t ease up because of a global healthcare crisis. As we know all too well, they need more attention than ever before. And home care steps into that need.

Telehealth Solutions take Center Stage During COVID…Despite Lack of Reimbursement for many including Home Health Agencies

Where telehealth solutions are often just what the doctor ordered (I get one of those, right?), it may be surprising to hear that the use of telemedicine by home care providers (among others) is not reimbursed by Medicare. Despite reimbursement roadblocks, Home Health Agencies continue to offer telehealth services, including remote patient monitoring because they have experienced firsthand how it can save lives. Medicaid has provided some reimbursement, albeit generally below an acceptable rate to providers and temporary in nature (thus far).

In 2020, the CARES Act granted CMS the authority to waive Medicare coverage and payment rules for telehealth services. Organizations including the National Association in Support of Long-Term Care and American Telehealth Association (ATA) have been advocating that Congress make permanent CMS’ flexibilities on telehealth and remote patient monitoring and to support the Expanded Telehealth Access Act of 2021, which would permanently expand telehealth coverage under the Medicare program. Their efforts are clearly paying off. According to a recent press release by ATA commending Congress for extending telehealth flexibilities for at least five months after the official expiration of the public health emergency (PHE).

Telehealth will most likely survive, especially if initiatives such as the Choose Home Care Act of 2021 become a reality – which would enable patients to select a Medicare home health benefit that would allow them to go home after a hospital stay with a wider array of home health benefits than conventional home health.

Embracing Technology to Advance Healthcare

Sometimes, the technology is there, but it takes a bit for the industry to adapt and accept viable care delivery methods. At Kno2 we advocate for technology that is simple and approachable to everyone, everywhere, and we’re optimistic that retrospectives on the pandemic experience for valued healthcare providers like HHAs will highlight the need to embrace new, flexible tools that enable communication and connectivity between providers…whether they’re in the hospitals or in homes.