Photo credit: Depositphotos
By Ryan Bullock, COO at Aeroflow Healthcare
The past year has been a whirlwind for the healthcare industry, to say the least. Hospitals are facing a shortage of beds due to the influx of patients with severe cases of COVID-19, practitioners have had to close their offices with the exception of emergencies, and many healthcare providers have adapted to delivering care virtually, which in return, brought on its own challenges relating to utilization and patient experience.
As we endure a second wave and COVID-19-related hospitalizations continue, there’s been another push to keep patients out of the ER and limit doctor’s visits, not only for their own safety, but to reserve these resources for the patients who need it most. This is why it’s imperative for healthcare providers to master virtual care, and for hospitals and offices to work with durable medical equipment (DME) providers who offer telehealth services.
Keep well patients out of the hospital
Durable medical equipment ranges from breast pumps, to catheters, to CPAP machines, and are used by patients to help with a variety of health conditions. While use of DME is sometimes temporary, it’s important that all patients, new and seasoned DME users, have access to support if and when they need help with their equipment. Before the pandemic, bringing the equipment into a doctor’s office or extending a hospital stay to ensure the patient was comfortable with using the equipment was the norm, but now as we continue efforts to limit in-person visits, DME support must be offered virtually.
Due to the pandemic, telehealth is more accessible now than ever before. According to a recent survey, most payors reported that they had implemented telehealth offerings in response to the pandemic, which is compounded by the CARES Act and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), expanding coverage and funding for these programs. With the widespread availability of telehealth, patients requiring DME support should be able to receive the care and guidance they need in the comfort of their own homes through a video call with a certified professional.
Telehealth improves the patient experience
Telehealth creates a healthcare experience that patients have come to expect in our on-demand culture. Patients now have immediate access to healthcare professionals and more flexibility, as they can conveniently take an appointment right from their computer or smartphone. Telehealth allows patients to receive care at their convenience and avoid potential exposure to the virus, which has proved favorable considering roughly 83 percent of patients expect to use telemedicine after the pandemic resolves.
Hospitals that work with DME providers who offer telehealth further allow patients to address non-urgent health matters including in-home set up for their CPAP machine, how to properly clean or use a breast pump, or answer any questions about getting new supplies, all without having to leave their home. This is not only more desirable for patients (especially those who are immunocompromised or have difficulty moving around), but this allows them to better prioritize proper use of their DME. They are now able to safely and quickly access the care they need, which can in turn, improve their overall health outcomes.
In addition to convenience, working with a DME provider who offers telehealth services can help save patients money. The pandemic has left millions unemployed and potentially without benefits, so affordability is currently a top priority among patients. A 2017 study by Health Affairs found the average cost of a telehealth visit to be $79, while an in-person visit could cost about $146. Telehealth is an important step in broadening access to quality healthcare. With that, it can encourage individuals to pursue a telehealth visit to address issues with their DME and determine if an in-person visit is necessary. More than 20 percent of Americans skip care due to cost, and if patients are skipping care related to their DME, this could negatively impact their health if they’re using their equipment improperly or not at all.
Ensure your DME provider offers a seamless telehealth offering
Selecting a DME that offers telehealth services isn’t enough, as you’ll want to ensure their telehealth program is thorough and easy to use. DME providers should be using a telehealth platform with a user-friendly interface, along with a strong system in place that eliminates the paint points of in-person visits, such as ensuring the patient sees the healthcare professional right at or shortly after their appointment time.
It’s also worth looking into whether or not the DME provider offers digital capabilities beyond telehealth services, such as online scheduling and electronic health records to further personalize and streamline the experience. A seamless virtual experience is not only more cost-effective for providers, but it will also improve patient retention and engagement as we continue adapting to a digital care model.
The value in hospitals working with DME providers that provide comprehensive telehealth services is clear, especially as the demand for virtual care will seemingly continue beyond the pandemic. Not only will this keep patients who require DME support out of the hospital, but it will create a convenient means for them to access quality care how and when they want. Virtual health initiatives offer benefits for all parties involved and will help us all achieve the shared goal of keeping patients safe, happy and comfortable.