Covid-19 and Home Health Care Telehealth: The Big Shift

The home health care industry has long pioneered a mix of in-person and remote care services to provide continuous care to patients in their homes. In the past, however, the industry has not necessarily utilized the latest technologies. Until recently, “remote care” was primarily defined by phone calls.

Part of the issue has been the unequal balance of providers and a growing population of home care patients. Remote care is a potential benefit to care coordination, but many home healthcare agencies have lacked the staff to provide for both in-person and remote care.

Another issue exacerbates this imbalance. Traditionally, the health industry has been unable to bill insurance companies for remote care. Without an easy path to payment, home health agencies, many of which are privately-owned, cannot expend valuable time and resources on remote care.

The health care paradigm shifted earlier this year when the pandemic forced the closure of many services, and most of the American population was ordered to shelter in place. Suddenly, health systems small and large—from private home health care agencies to large hospitals—had to provide attentive care while minimizing exposure to the Covid-19, especially for at-risk patients, many of whom utilize in-home services.

Far from floundering, however, most health systems used the crisis to create a new opportunity. As Bailey Bryant, writing for Home Health Care News, recently noted: “The health care sector has long had the capability to use telehealth, but it took the COVID-19 emergency to prompt widespread adoption.”

Read: “Senior Telehealth Use Continues to Rise, Despite Home Health Limitations

The pandemic has changed people’s thinking about telehealth services, and caregivers are taking advantage of new technologies to provide seamless care.

Writing for mHealth Intelligence, the editor Erik Wicklund writes that home health care workers use: “telemedicine technology, ranging from mHealth apps and connected devices to remote patient monitoring and smart home programs, to provide a continuous care experience, and one that balances clinical support with self-management.”

Read: “The Promise and Potential for Telehealth in Home Health”

Indeed, after nearly a half year of utilizing telehealth services, both caregivers and patients alike are realizing the benefits of more seamless coordination between in-home and remote services.

Home Health Care Telehealth: Attention from Lawmakers

Lawmakers have started to recognize a need to improve billing for remote care services—though not yet for the home health care industry. As Bailey Bryant notes in her article about telehealth and home health care:

“The increased use of telehealth among the senior population is largely thanks to new Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) flexibilities allowing dozens of telemedicine services — though not yet home health — to be billed at the same rate as in-person visits.”

However, some lawmakers have recognized a need to reimburse private agencies, like home health care providers. For example, the senator Susan Collins, of Maine, has said she was working on a bill to reimburse home health care telehealth services (source).

“I plan to introduce a bill soon to create a framework to reimburse for telehealth services provided by home health agencies,” Collins said.

In the meantime, home health care agencies like Forever Young, which services patients in the greater Philadelphia area, including the surrounding suburban areas, continue to strive to match the standards of a pre-pandemic standard of care while working with an entirely new set of variables.