BIZMOLOGY — In my post last week about the changes facing the nursing home industry, I talked about the growing numbers of patients who instead of living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities were receiving in-home care. The importance of home health care is going to only grow.
One way that home health care is going to expand is through telehealth technology. Patients who have a chronic health condition that requires routine monitoring, such as heart disease, can benefit from telehealth. Patients use a simple monitoring device at home that takes their blood pressure, weight, oxygen saturation, and other key indicators, and then that information is transmitted to staff at the home office.
From remote medication-management programs to home health-monitoring systems, so-called “telehealth” is becoming increasingly commonplace in today’s high-tech environment. Health care experts confirm that [the patient's] ability to transmit daily readings of her vital signs through Wifi hookups to attending doctors and nurses for evaluation is just the beginning of a systemwide evolution to more home-based practitioning.
Telehealth devices don’t replace doctors. However, they do replace office visits, which may be difficult for housebound patients to manage. And perhaps most importantly, they reduce hospital readmissions, one of the leading causes of high health care costs. Medicare‘s new readmission policy penalizes hospitals whose readmission rates are too high by reducing their reimbursements. Telehealth is one of the ways that the health care sector hopes to keep sick patients out of the hospital. And it seems to be working.
The $57 billion home health care industry has undergone a lot of changes. Initially conceived as transitional care after hospitalization, home health care now mainly serves elderly patients with chronic conditions. This changing business model is ripe for high-tech solutions, and medical device manufacturers are stepping up to provide them. Additionally, accountable care organizations (ACOs) are reaching out to home health care companies as a way to bring them into the fold. ACOs are specifically called out in the ACA as a way to cut costs and streamline care.
There will be no single solution to the dual goals of the new health care model. Increasing access is all well and good, but just increasing access to care is not making it affordable. Right-sizing care will also be important, and home health care high-tech will play a significant role.