By Dr. Merlin, chief medical officer at DocGo
During my residency 22 years ago, patients used to rely predominantly on hospitals and medical facilities for treatment – telehealth was still in its infancy and most health systems were not set up for at-home care success. Nor did we, as healthcare providers, believe patients could get the necessary treatment or follow-up outside the hospital environment, so we admitted patients to hospitals for a wide variety of medical conditions.
Fast forward to today, and medical services outside the hospital have become one of the fastest growing healthcare movements. In fact, at-home diagnostics – medical diagnostic services that can be provided at home – are quickly becoming the next major healthcare trend. That means essential diagnostics, such as blood tests, cardiac monitoring, medication delivery, oxygenation checks and more, can now be performed in the comfort of the patient’s home, with remote oversight from their healthcare provider.
In addition to the pandemic, an aging boomer population and advances in medical technology have all contributed to this growth. As people have remained in their homes for extended durations, they are opting for care where they live. In addition, healthcare providers, insurance companies and other key players have realized that unless a patient is critically ill or requires an ICU setting, the best place may often be in their own bed, in their own home.
Take sleep studies, for instance. There was once a time when everyone had to be in a hospital or a specialized sleep center for a sleep study. Now, patients can pick up a machine and monitor their sleep overnight in the comfort of their bed. Not only has the quality of care and patient comfort changed dramatically, but the insurance industry also reimburses for these services. A hospitalized study that costs thousands of dollars is translated to a few hundred dollars when conducted in a patient’s home.
We’ve felt this huge shift in our own business for the past two years. Some of the at-home tests we’ve seen increase significantly at DocGo, for instance, include Point of Care Testing (POCT) – blood tests with rapid results for a whole host of conditions – and cardiac monitoring, using EKGs in the patient’s home. We are now also able to perform ultrasound testing at the patient’s location and stream the results to a provider for interpretation. The variety of at-home diagnostics available today ensures we, as healthcare providers, can conduct remote evaluation of many conditions, including rashes, cellulitis, infections, and abscesses. For instance, our remote monitor device allows physicians to clinically see and tell if a patient is hydrated. We can listen to somebody’s lungs sounds or heart sounds, while remote. We can conduct an eye exam, look into the patient’s throat or examine their skin with the help of several devices, all while remote. We also can prescribe medications, including antibiotics remotely – either one dose or several doses.
When it comes to at-home diagnostics, mobile health services play a crucial role in accessibility and affordability. In our business, that means using upskilled CMAs, EMTs, paramedics, LPNs and RNs – all working under the guidance of a remote physician – to facilitate treatment that elevates the level of patient care. It’s leveraging technology to increase transparency and efficiency for patients, providers, and payers. And we’ve seen immense success with this model. For instance, recently we were able to reduce readmissions for one California hospital network by 48 percent – a critical improvement for patients with heart failure who are often readmitted due to medication or dietary changes. Using our mobile services to regularly examine patients, conduct frequent visits to consistently monitor and intervene before a potential crisis helps demonstrably improve patient outcomes.
What started a few years ago is accelerating at light-speed. We now know there is immeasurable value in at-home diagnostic testing, with far reaching benefits for the patient, physician, and the entire health system. As we look ahead, this fast-growing health trend will continue to evolve. We’ll see increased use of technology, new oral medications that will replace IVs, more drugs that don’t require regular blood tests or checking blood levels, and we’ll reduce the need for needle sticks, lab tests and more office visits. Such changes will continue improve healthcare as we know it, making patients’ lives easier with more effective, efficient, convenient care.