The trend towards home and virtual health care visits over going to a doctor’s office or hospital – already on the rise before Covid-19 — is accelerating and likely is here to stay.
“We were seeing an uptick before the pandemic,” affirmed Brecken Anderson, Division Vice President of Operations for the Northeast Division, LHC Group. “But now there’s a real preference on the part of patients and physicians alike, especially with simple wellness visits, to conduct them via phone, virtual visits or voice chats rather than the doctor’s office.”
LHC Group is a national home health care provider whose Almost Family and Patient Care offices include Bridgeport, Danbury, Norwalk, Stamford and Trumbull. Anderson said that its network of Registered Nurses (RN), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN), Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) and Social Workers is designed to work in partnership with physicians and patients to strategize and deliver the appropriate health care in a home setting.
According to a recent report by Wintergreen Research, the global virtual health care delivery market sat at $21 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $95 billion worldwide — $77.4 billion in the U.S. — by 2026. Much of that growth is directly due to the impact of the pandemic, but Wintergreen noted: “Once the virtual health care delivery systems are in place, they will not be dismantled; they will morph and be adapted to current needs.”
Forrester Research maintains that virtual care visits will top 1 billion this year, with some 90% of those being Covid-related. Phoenix virtual care platform eVisit reported a 3,900% increase in the number of providers added to its system in the first quarter of this year compared to Q1 2019.
Health care providers and hospitals are also their preferences. A recent William Blair survey found that 81% of physicians responsible for discharge planning now prefer to refer their patients to a home health agency versus a skilled nursing facility; that number stood at 54% before the pandemic.
That the elderly are among those most susceptible to the coronavirus also plays a role in home-based health care, Anderson said.
While not able to quantify how LHC’s numbers have grown, she noted that the firm has filled 65 positions since March 1 and is actively seeking another 24 staffers. “Some of it is anticipation,” she said. “We want to be prepared for an influx if it happens.”
Although Connecticut has been one of the few states to maintain a low infection rate for the past several months, last week it recorded a 2.4% infection rate — its highest since June, according to Gov. Ned Lamont.
“We firmly believe the pandemic has shifted the way health care will be delivered in the future,” Anderson said. “With telehealth and telemonitoring and technologies like Bluetooth, virtual visits are definitely on an upswing.”
Helping matters is a move made by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on March 13, when under the Stafford Act and the National Emergencies Act it temporarily lifted certain Medicare program restrictions, thus paving the way for providers to offer a wider range of telehealth services.
In addition, CMS estimates that home health care for Medicare recipients saves at least $378 million a year through reduced hospitalizations.
As a result of all this activity, Anderson said, home care has gone from being “an underutilized service to an increasingly important one.”
LHC prescreens all of its team members for Covid each day prior to the start of patient visits or reporting to work. “There was a lot of fear and anxiety for everybody, especially in the early days” of the pandemic, Anderson said. “There were a lot of regulatory adjustments coming through on how to serve this particular patient population, and we had to navigate them quickly. We did a good job of getting the guidance out, and making sure that we had the appropriate PPE in place and were following the CDC regulations to protect our employees as well as our patients.”
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