Bringing the power of the hospital to the home with high-acuity telehealth
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has been a vital asset for healthcare providers feeling the strain of staffing shortages and patient surges. While much of the attention has been on how remote care has kept primary care clinics in business, telehealth offers numerous other opportunities ready to make their debut on the big stage.
One such use case is the “hospital at home.” Increasingly mature telehealth tools make acute care possible in the patient’s home while providing critical relief for hospitals operating at capacity.
Creating viable alternatives to traditional hospitalization
“Virtual care is an incredible enabler of personalization and choice for consumers,” said Monique Reese, DNP, ARNP, FNP, ACHPN, SVP of Home & Community Care at Highmark Health during a panel at ViVE 2022 in Miami Beach.
“We can offer traditional care in a hospital or skilled nursing facility, or we can offer the same level of care in the home with integrated care teams and virtual hospitalist visits. It’s the same level of care, but it’s often much less stressful and disruptive for the patient.”
The hospital-at-home model isn’t new, but it is gaining ground as consumers wield their power in increasingly disruptive ways.
“These strategies are a direct result of consumerism,” Reese continued. “Most people have a preference to be at home, so we want to give individuals and families the ability to make a choice that’s best for them.”
Phil Mitchell, MD, Chief Medical Officer at DispatchHealth, agreed that consumer preferences are turning firmly in favor of more customizable, personalized options.
“Patients want and deserve on-demand care,” he said. “The hospital at home can give that to them in a very convenient, consumer-friendly manner.”
Telehealth-enabled acute care at home has been proven to be safe, effective, and popular with patients, added Eliza Pippa Shulman, DO, MPH, Chief Medical Officer of Medically Home.
“There’s more than 20 years of evidence that people who require inpatient level care can get safe care at home,” she stated. “We now see health systems successfully delivering very complex care in the home, such as post-transplant care and oncology services. The data bears out that this is safe, high-quality care.”
Relieving strain on overburdened healthcare systems
Keeping patients out of the hospital is a top priority for health systems still struggling with capacity issues due to the pandemic. Acute care telehealth can reduce the pressure in several different ways.
In addition to improving experiences and opening up beds for more patients, telehealth can help fill staffing gaps and provide access to expert specialty care that may not be available in smaller community hospitals or far-flung rural areas.
“Acute telehealth can augment provider capacity and expertise,” explained Deanna Larson, President of Avel eCare, a telehealth company spun out of Avera Health in South Dakota. “For example, we have remote emergency physicians who can guide on-site providers through difficult or uncommon procedures to improve the competency and confidence of bedside practitioners.”
Access to these additional clinical resources can keep smaller facilities open and ensure patients still have local care options for acute needs.
For patients and providers, the future of acute care is virtual
The pandemic has changed the way providers want to work. Many clinicians want the same work-from-home benefits as their peers elsewhere in the workforce, and the growing maturity of telehealth tools can give that to them.
“I see telemedicine as a huge business opportunity for acute care, virtual ICU, telenursing, telebehavioral health, and more,” said panel moderator Alan Pitt, MD, a radiologist at the Barrow Neurological Institute. “With so many health systems struggling with workforce issues, remote care is a way to attract and retain staff without sacrificing on care quality.”
Larson also envisions a hybrid future for many clinicians approaching burnout at their traditional jobs. “There’s a lot of very fatigued people out there,” she said. “Most providers still want some sort of bedside care experience, but many are starting to make telemedicine a bigger part of their career.”
“If we can keep building the hospital-at-home model with high patient satisfaction and equivalent outcomes, we’re going to continue seeing a shift toward virtually enabled relationships.”
Read more of our ViVE event coverage:
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- In a COVID-19 world, digital transformation of the workforce goes beyond clinical tools
- How to move beyond cybersecurity compliance in healthcare? Focus on clinician workflows
- Embedding DEI initiatives into healthcare talent recruitment
- Building virtual care infrastructure begins with removal of perceived barriers
- Sutter Health staying agile to improve patient experience with digital automation
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Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry. Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.