Recently we gathered some of the foremost experts in home health and hospice for a COVID-19 forum to discuss the pandemic and its impact. Agency leaders, consultants, and vendors all came together to share their insight on changes to patient care, financial operations, and overall agency operations. Here’s a summary of the advice our experts shared during the patient care session.
COVID-19 Forum: Key Advice from Patient Care Experts
In this session, we discussed how the adaptations, changes, and innovations being made today due to COVID-19 will shape patient care in the future.
Disruption in Patient Care
- At the beginning, one of the biggest challenges was regarding pharmacies. Agencies who used local pharmacies had difficulty getting medications. Now, many are looking at alternative solutions to maintain access to prescription drugs.
- Many facilities refused to let hospice care providers in to see patients. As a result, agencies are building stronger relationships with nursing homes and other facilities to improve infection control and patient care in general.
Telehealth & The Use of Technology
- Many agencies discovered that they could better utilize technology to improve efficiency and patient care. While it may not always appear to be cost effective, it’s proven to be vitally important for continuing care during the pandemic.
- COVID-19 served as a tipping point for telehealth. Both facilities and home-based care providers are relying more on virtual care. And that trend continues to grow.
- Many patients refused in-home care. And at first, many clinicians were reluctant to conduct virtual visits and many patients were challenged to use technology. Over time, they’ve both embraced telehealth as viable alternative to in-person visits.
- Most agencies who implemented or “boosted” their use of telehealth services during COVID-19 say they’ll continue to take advantage of virtual tools.
PPE & Safety Precautions
- Communication with patients and their families is vital. Teaching patients CDC guidance on keeping their homes safe, what to do if someone is suspected of contracting COVID-19, and what to expect when the caregiver arrives was at the top of agency lists.
- Some agencies have experienced low quantities of PPE, but were able to identify non-conventional ways to address the possible shortage. They worked from an angle of “aggressive conservation” to ensure they had what they needed, when they needed it.
- Prices for PPE skyrocketed in April. There was fear of obtaining unsafe or fraudulent PPE, but there was a lot of diligence in ensuring that the best products were obtained.
Referrals & Census
- Given that many facilities shut down and elective surgeries were put on hold, referrals dropped for most home health agencies. Now that facilities have reopened and elective surgeries have resumed, many are seeing their census bounce back.
- The severity of patients changed for hospices at the beginning. They started seeing very acute, very short stay patients because limited other options available for patients. That too has evened out some.
- Agencies have been forced to review and update existing policies and procedures. And they have also been forced to act quickly to implement new policies and procedures. As a result, many discovered areas of improvement for efficiency and care quality. In addition, many policies are still evolving as the pandemic continues.
- An increase in the quality and amount of communication among staff has been vital during COVID-19.
COVID-19: Hopes for the Future of Home Health & Hospice Patient Care
- Many vendors and suppliers acted quickly to identify and implement product and service enhancements to support agencies during the pandemic. These enhancements also be valuable into the future.
- Agencies have discovered the value of technology to drive better communication, better efficiency, and better care quality. For this reason, they’ll continue to look for creative ways to provide high-quality care using technology, third-party partnerships, and more.
- The world has seen the real need for home health and hospice care. Payers will start to embrace this and look at reimbursement from a different angle.