There is not a whole lot about the COVID-19 pandemic that most people would consider nice-to-have-happened. It was devastating on many fronts: to our economy, our communities, and our collective health. The hits to the healthcare system in particular, though, drove many of the national responses to the threat of COVID, and highlighted some of the critical challenges and issues that were present well before panic-inducing disease outbreaks. (Yes, plural. We see you, Monkeypox, and you can go home.) However, one of the innovations that shone brightly in the face of a necessity to remain at a distance was the utilization of telehealth in care delivery, particularly in the drastic shift toward Home Health services. In general, the increased flexibility for Home Health as a result of home-based care delivery during the Public Health Emergency has been beneficial. But with the impending end of that order (despite another extension, it has to end sometime…), we have to consider how we continue to equip Home Health providers with better communication resources.
Follow the Money: How Reimbursement Demonstrates Perceived Value Of Home Health Services
One of the more frustrating aspects of the anticipated end of the Public Health Emergency declaration is that the flexibility and reimbursability that has enabled many Home Health services will be reverted. With staffing issues and reimbursement woes already top of mind for post-acute providers, this will eliminate some of the allowances over the past few years that have actually signaled some much-needed ease in how Home Healthcare is delivered. Home Health provider burnout is so real, so reducing available resources and services (via lack of coverage) is a low blow and erects barriers to this method of care delivery when it’s more in-demand than ever.
So what’s subject to change? Therapy providers such as OTs and PTs injected into the admissions process have alleviated some of the incredible burden placed on RNs and NPs to reduce barriers to care access and lighten the total load, but this is not expected to last post-PHE. We’ve also seen where reimbursements for telemedicine are allowed during the Public Health Emergency, but are not foreseen to stick around for home-based services (save for hospice) when it expires. And if reimbursements disappear, that means that so will Home Health services relying on telemedicine to deliver care. (Think rural and underserved areas.)
Simply asking Home Health Agencies to deal with this “changing of the rules” is forgetting that these are businesses, not charities. The rising cost of gas, supplies, and inflation in general are already threatening many smaller agencies. Taking away reimbursement dollars for communication methods (like telehealth) that traverse some of these economic challenges further hurts patients and the providers who want to serve them.
The Need for Optimized Provider Communication Doesn’t Go Away When the Public Health Emergency Is Called Off
The end of the emergency status doesn’t mean that things go back to normal. In reality, our collective “normal” when it comes to healthcare is far from optimal. Despite billions poured into healthcare infrastructure, clunky administrative workflows and solutions continue to plague every avenue of care delivery.
For Home Health in particular, the nomadic and out-of-band nature of these providers requires communication tools that are simple and make sense for reaching patients out of hospitals and care facilities. Being able to snap a photo of a wound on a smartphone or capture a care report to share with another provider, and being able to securely transmit that information to multiple providers in real-time, is not asking too much. It’s these very basic workflows – and the ease of executing them via simple communication tools – that allows Home Health providers to hold down the proverbial fort, regardless of emergency provisions or not.