Fifteen-year home health therapist and Vice President of Clinical Strategies for HealthPRO® Heritage at Home, Jason L. Sasser, shares best practices and perspective on what the COVID-19 crisis means for home health providers during his interview for The Strategy Academy podcast series. Highlights from that discussion are summarized here:
Q: What are the biggest challenges for home health amidst the COVID-19 crisis?
- Currently, two-thirds of in-home health providers report not having enough protective equipment.
- Patients and families are likely to refuse much-needed therapy because uncertainty and fear related to COVID-19 infection.
Q: What recommendations do you have for easing patients’ concerns?
- Assure patients and their families that we are professionals who are practicing at the top of our license, adhering to strict infection control protocols, and following CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines daily.
- Part of the home health visit should focus on education for family members and caregivers, as well as the patient on strategies for staying healthy and safe amidst the health crisis. For example, therapists can focus on health literacy, instructions for proper hand washing, guidance for maintaining a healthy home environment, and safety precautions as part of their treatment sessions. Also, continue to have patients and their families focus on functional activities around the home while ensuring they stay healthy, active, and progressing.
- EVERY DAY home health therapists should demonstrate superior infection control techniques during every visit. This standard of practice should be modeled even during normal times when there is not a national health emergency.
Q: It is imperative that healthcare providers remain healthy. What precautions do you recommend to keep therapists (and their families) safe during the COVID-19 epidemic and always?
Develop a thorough, consistent practice to assure germs are not transferred into or away from patients’ homes. Primarily, make sure to follow infection control guidelines for proper hand washing, proper bag technique, and already established rules and precautions. Keep an ample supply of disinfectant spray, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, garbage bags and antimicrobial wipes to clean shoes, equipment, and hands before, during, and after visits. Also, develop a system for removing and laundering shoes and clothes prior to entering your own home to protect your family, friends, and pets.
Q: Considering that COVID-19 has shifted the dynamics of the healthcare system, how does the home health industry expect referrals to trend in the coming weeks and months?
The demand for home health will be on the rise as hospitals and skilled nursing are faced with increasing pressure to care for more critically ill patients. In an effort to keep the virus from spreading, there is an advantage to keeping patients recovering at home.
(During the podcast interview, Jason discusses an interesting report from Italy referencing an important lesson learned by Italian medical teams related to home health care: Providing care for patients at home using mobile clinicians and telemedicine was a smart decision that most likely decreased transmission rates and potentially saved lives. The Italian medical community contends that the rate of COVID-19 infections soared when patients began arriving for treatment at hospitals, and perhaps the crisis could have been minimized with more home-based services.)
Q: What new government regulations affect home health services?
- The practice of using telehealth in the home is changing. For example, for patients in the home: Medicare is now covering face-to-face encounters with their physicians via telehealth.
- CMS announced that the data reporting programs would be relaxed thru June 2020.
- Medicare Part B is allowing for one telehealth visit per week right now.
- CMS has not announced any changes (yet!) related to important practices such as meeting requirements for homebound status and telehealth for therapy services. Providers are encouraged to advocate for these and other issues here:
- Visit nahc.org and click the “Advocacy” Tab & “Policy” tab to advocate for: better access for PPE and coverage for telehealth visits
For more insights and guidance: Check out The Strategy Academy with HealthPRO® Heritage podcast that accompanies this blog: