Report Underscores Importance of Home Health

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Amy Shellhart By Amy Shellhart 
Vice President of Product Management, Change Healthcare

The home health industry should assume a greater role in the American healthcare system to avoid hospitalizations and help ensure that patients are well cared for post-discharge, according to a new report.

The Alliance for Home Health Quality and Innovation (AHHQI) has been on a multi-year, research-based mission, the Future of Home Health Project, outlining home health’s role in the continuum of care. The article in peer-reviewed Home Health Care Management and Practice is entitled “The Future of Home Health Care: A Strategic Framework for Optimizing Value.” The future envisioned in the report puts home health organizations on the forefront of patient care:

  • Providing post-acute care and acute care at home
  • Partnering with primary care
  • Partnering with home and community-based long-term care programs.

“In these roles, home health agencies will provide time-limited rapid escalation of skilled nursing, therapy and other support to enable patients to avoid hospitalization and to be integrated into community life,” the authors state in a news release.

According to the release, the report recommends helping home health achieve its full potential in the continuum of care by:

  1. Empowering home health organizations to partner more fully in care coordination while reducing the regulatory challenges to risk-sharing agreements.
  2. Encouraging flexibility in providing home healthcare through more alternative payment models. Suggestions include testing waivers of certain regulatory limits to encourage clinically appropriate and cost-effective practices.
  3. Getting tougher on instances of fraud by doing a better job of identifying patterns of aberrant claims. Helping reduce fraud in this way not only cuts down on overall waste, but also instills greater confidence in the Medicare system, according to the report.

Four Pillars for the Agency of the Future

The industry itself was charged with developing certain capabilities and strengthening others to take full advantage of home health’s enhanced importance. Future home health agencies must:

  • Focus on responsive patient care that respects individual needs. While our industry is ideally situated for this one, the report notes that new quality indicators likely will be needed to measure the effectiveness of care. Helping someone regain mobility is easily quantifiable, but helping someone continue to live at home may be more difficult to quantify.
  • Seamlessly connect and coordinate that care. Home care organizations that are part of health systems may be farther down the road on this one than independent home care organizations are. The benefits of coordinated care appear obvious, and value-based care and reimbursement pilots are helping move the needle.
  • Emphasize care quality. Medicare’s transition to value-based care is already preparing providers to be more flexible in its service offerings. Research that’s part of the report confirms what we already knew—people want to stay in their homes as long as possible despite age, infirmity and often multiple chronic conditions. Home health can be there following an acute event, as well as working to keep people out of institutional settings by helping them manage chronic conditions and stay on top of activities of daily living.
  • Enable the use of technology. A challenge was noted here since Medicare currently does not offer reimbursement for many types of health information technology. However, many home care organizations already are reaping the benefits of agency and clinical management software that helps provide individualized care, interact with other care providers and tracks new financial and quality metrics.

We all recognize the importance of home health in helping people recover from illness and injury and to age gracefully in their own homes. It’s refreshing that others are noticing the role we currently play and are realizing that we can do much, much more.

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