The home health industry will continue to settle through 2021, buoyed by the optimism associated with the country’s vaccination progress.
For the first time in months, clinical leadership teams have the opportunity to take stock of their operations while assessing a range of different opportunities, challenges, and trends in home care. One specific area that clinical leaders are currently facing challenges is the administrative side.
Similar to the rest of the healthcare sector, for example, the home healthcare industry has been bogged down by the exposure to electronic health records (EHR). According to Dr. Anna Loengard, the company’s chief medical officer, was critical at AccentCare making sure this was not an obstacle to care.
“The EHR has been a major dissatisfaction for clinicians,” Loengard said in a recent webinar on Home Health Care News. “It really took time, energy, and effort to focus on patients and really care about patients. One of my main focuses here at AccentCare is [working on] Bringing joy back into the lives of our doctors every day. How do we make sure we don’t stand in the way of patient care? “
Dallas-based AccentCare has more than 200 locations in the United States. As a company, the company provides qualified home health and personal care services as well as hospice care, private care and nursing management services.
While the providers are working on creative solutions to reduce the administrative burden, the vaccinations of the employees – and the COVID-19 emergency as a whole – remain in the foreground.
For Intrepid USA Healthcare Services, this means keeping track of which employees started the vaccination process, said Dr. Bob Parker, the company’s chief clinical and compliance officer.
“Fortunately, we implemented technology – a patient engagement platform that we were about to launch when COVID hit us,” Parker said during the same webinar. “We were able to quickly translate that to check our staff. We are now working on creating a poll [to track] Who got their COVID vaccine? Did you get your first one? Did you get your second one? “
Intrepid USA, also headquartered in Dallas, has 75 local care centers in 17 states.
While Intrepid USA is still working to pinpoint the exact number of employees who will have received the vaccine, Parker found that the company has been more successful in rural markets than in larger, urban markets.
Likewise, AccentCare does not have an easy time getting its employees vaccinated.
By mid-February, around 20% of the workforce had received at least one first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Since then, that percentage has risen to around 30%, according to Loengard.
“We’re nowhere near the 80% we hopefully want to get to before this summer,” she said. “I think that’s in large part because we don’t have easy access to vaccines. If it were that easy to have our HR team call and say, “I have these 100 people who need to be vaccinated in Austin, CVS is telling me when we can bring them in.” That’d be really nice. But it’s not that organized. “
AccentCare’s position as a large company is another challenge. The company currently employs around 30,000 people.
Aside from vaccination efforts, the home health clinic’s directors continue to determine which systems and processes to virtualize.
The public health emergency has allowed Intrepid USA to accelerate this effort.
“It has allowed us to really experiment with a lot of different platforms, processes and the way we put these things together,” said Parker.
One specific development that emerged from these experiments is the company’s move to virtualize the OASIS clinical process in its care centers.
“We’re looking at what we’re doing with these patients in real time,” said Parker. “And we can adjust in real time to get things started right. There’s an oversight.”
With this in mind, AccentCare has turned to technology and telehealth as a way of delivering services.
“I think it’s one of those areas of medicine where everyone had a three-year plan for telehealth rollout that became a three-day plan,” Loengard said. “I think this is an innovation that in a way is staying. It helped us access these patients [in congregate living settings]. ”
During the public health emergency, providers struggled to gain access to long-term care and assisted living facilities as new restrictions were put in place to contain the spread of the virus.
Loengard believes that reimbursement efforts need to be driven forward so that telehealth plays a permanent role in service delivery.
“We have to figure out how to get paid for it,” she said. “Currently, only UnitedHealthcare pays us for these types of visits. It has to be part of how you get paid for this home health episode. I think we need to work with policy makers to find out what that looks like and how you put guard rails on it? We really need to be proactive in shaping what that looks like. ”
In February, the Inspector General’s Office (OIG) announced an audit known as the “HHA Telehealth Project. “The audit will look at the use of telemedicine by home health providers in 2020, when the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) introduced exemptions to provide flexibility.
While an announcement of this kind could understandably cause fear among providers, Loengard hopes it won’t hinder the use of telemedicine for home health.
Parker stressed that providers need to stand behind the necessary decisions they made during the COVID-19 emergency.
“We did everything right in those horrible six to eight months,” he said. “Not at all. If you dig you will find something. I think [OIG] must come to that … [with the intention] from ‘let’s learn from it.’ Let’s make sure it becomes part of our future activities. Not as a ‘gotcha’. “