By Shaul Eitan
The COVID-19 crisis has shown us both the strengths and weaknesses of healthcare systems around the world. The significant hospital burden driven by the crisis has forced healthcare systems to make quick changes to manage overwhelmed hospitals wards in the short term and now they must begin to think about how to improve operations to manage in the future. Looking at the ways in which the system must shift, there is one forward-thinking trend, which almost everyone seems to agree upon – the time to transition to homecare settings is here.
The benefits of shifting to home healthcare
Even before this crisis struck the world, it was becoming clear that home healthcare could offer significant benefits if implemented widely. Many patients managing chronic illnesses who are immunocompromised can benefit from being treated at home, minimizing their time in hospitals and reducing their chances of transmitting potentially deadly hospital-acquired infections. Additionally, patients treated at home are more comfortable, and have a higher quality of life, improving their mental well-being, which often leads to improved outcomes. The patient safety benefits are many.
Furthermore, hospitals can save significant costs by being able to discharge patients earlier to effective homecare environments, and doctors can gain from improved outcomes that emerge as a result of homecare when part of outcome-based payment models. And of course, catering to patients at home reduces the burden on already stretched hospitals, an existing challenge that only became worse through the course of the pandemic.
Technology innovation can help realize the vision of home healthcare
Managing this pandemic has helped patients and providers understand the value of homecare, priming the market for this transition. However, to implement a vision of moving patients out of hospitals we must ensure that the home environment is as conducive to quality care as possible. Thankfully, technology can address two of the primary challenges, namely connectivity and ease of use of medical devices.
For instance, an infusion pump designed for homecare settings must be simple enough that with basic training, a patient would be able to administer their therapies themselves, or with the support of a family member. This means streamlining the design of infusion pumps for plug-and-play activation, whereby an infusion can begin with a simple click of a button. These devices should also be connected as a new endpoint in the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) so healthcare professionals can effectively monitor if patients are complying with the prescribed course of treatment. Enabling a broader range of therapeutics that can be administered at home could significantly reshape the oncology industry.
Shifting these infusion treatments to homecare environments serves both the patient and the system, as this is a more cost-effective approach compared to hospital IV therapies, with large fees that come in hospital settings. Integrating technologies for homecare that are easy to use and connected will help healthcare systems become more cost efficient, giving them the ability to manage large patient populations with the same resources, while increasing patient comfort, lowering readmission rates, and ultimately leading to better outcomes and improved quality of life.
The push to home healthcare must start at the top
Despite the clear benefits of supporting homecare, the shift requires a significant short-term investment in tech and procedures, something that could prevent governments from getting behind the change. Therefore, it is a good sign that significant strides were made in the last year to support homecare reimbursements. For instance, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released its 2021 plans for home infusion benefits to address patients who are in dire need of infused or injected drugs, as they are in the high-risk categories and are most susceptible to complications due to pre-existing health conditions including immune disorders. Though the industry has had feedback on CMS’s home infusion benefits, believing that these benefits need to be revisited, there is agreement from both government and industry that home infusion must become more accessible.
COVID-19 has also led to homecare policy changes, for instance a relaxation of regulations allowing for “broad flexibilities to furnish services using remote communications technology to avoid exposure risks to health care providers, patients, and the community” as a result of COVID-19. Additionally, for the duration of the pandemic, CMS is amending Medicaid home health regulations “to allow other licensed practitioners to order home health services,” making it clear that healthcare professionals across the spectrum see the benefits of patient care in the home.
That said, there is significant room to further incentivize R&D, promote research and implement training to allow for patients to go home. Fortunately, money saved through shifting care to the home can ultimately be used to fuel the very innovation making homecare possible. This creates a “win-win” opportunity for innovators, patients and providers, and can help restructure healthcare systems to be able to manage more patients, more efficiently with better potential outcomes.
Homecare will change the way we treat patients
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital-related care challenges can no longer be ignored, and the role of home healthcare can no longer be understated. We have the technical capabilities necessary to improve the safety of homecare for patients and allow for doctors to track the wellbeing of their patients from afar. Additionally, we have seen positive signs that legislators recognize the value of this shift. We must follow through to take advantage of a unique moment in history to make homecare a standard.
Shaul Eitan is the CEO of Avoset Health, an Eitan Group company. Eitan Group is committed to developing future-ready connected infusion systems across the continuum of care with its three affiliate companies, Q Core Medical, Avoset Health and Sorrel Medical. Shaul previously served as COO of Q Core Medical, a developer of smart infusion systems for hospital and ambulatory care settings.