How to Engage Home Health Patients and Improve Outcomes with Telehealth

This article originally appeared in the May issue of Home Care Mag.

For most health care providers, telehealth offers a low-cost way to provide patients with convenience and increased access to care. But more than that, it can also enable agencies to actively engage patients and create positive outcomes.

Across the health care ecosystem, patient engagement is increasingly seen as a top strategic priority due to its potential to improve patient outcomes and maximize reimbursements. With the significant changes to reimbursement and regulatory requirements that home health agencies (HHAs) face, using new, cost-effective strategies to remain competitive and profitable is increasingly important—and engaging patients through telehealth is one of these.

A common misconception is that patient engagement only happens in the home during home health visits; however, there are many opportunities for agencies and their staff to remain engaged with patients during the entire episode of care and beyond. Telehealth is one way to connect with patients between visits. HHAs must follow the lead of other industries that have worked toward perfecting customer engagement. If Uber and Safelite can check in before a representative arrives—and follow up on the customer experience afterward—why shouldn’t home health providers?

What Does Telehealth Look Like?
Telehealth can be as involved as remote biometric monitoring system or as simple as phone calls and text messages offering educational and clinical resources between home visits. Many agencies use telehealth services to communicate with patients to identify any potential issues such as low supply levels or challenges with obtaining or understanding medications.

There are two ways agencies carry out this type of telehealth. They can employ staff members or call centers to perform outreach manually, or they can leverage automated calls or texts for initial outreach and then connect patients to someone who can resolve any issues.

While manual outreach may feel more personalized, most agencies are realizing it has limitations in terms of standardization, reporting and call volume. Automation, on the other hand, can be standardized and has the potential to reach 100% of patients on census. Agencies looking to augment their patient engagement programs should explore both manual and automated telehealth services, depending on their engagement goals.

Preventing Patient Problems
Engaging with patients between home health visits via telephone outreach can help agencies address patient concerns before an adverse event such as readmission occurs. Calls, texts or other communication methods should prompt patients to answer questions about their status, including medication information, experience, scheduling and more. Once patients answer, agencies have the opportunity to proactively address any issues and ensure patients are on a successful road to recovery.

That could mean helping with clinical activities, such as ensuring the patient has all necessary medications and is adhering to instructions. It can also mean helping with nonclinical activities like transportation challenges. When staff members are able to provide clinical and nonclinical services even when not in the home, a patient is less likely to experience an adverse event such as a readmission. This positive outcome is beneficial to the agency, the patient and referral partners.

In addition, adding meaningful and timely patient interactions between home health visits provides an opportunity to improve the patient’s and family’s perceptions of care. Showing concern for a patient’s well-being outside of home visits can reinforce positive interactions or even turn around negative ones. With telehealth programs, agency staff can also close the loop on potential concerns before the patient fills out a Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Home Health Care Survey, potentially resulting in higher scores.

Ringing in Revenue
Positively impacting patient outcomes and satisfaction puts agencies in a strong position to improve star ratings and increase referral volume. By employing proven telehealth strategies, agencies can drive better patient care at a lower cost. And with new payment programs, such as the Home Health Value-Based Purchasing Program and the mandatory Patient-Driven Grouping Model (PDGM), agencies that provide better care at a lower cost will likely see additional revenue gains.

Starting in 2020 with PDGM, agencies will receive a higher reimbursement rate for referrals from hospitals or skilled nursing facilities than from community referrals, such as a physician’s office. With this in mind, agencies that align their goals with those of network partners, such as hospitals, will likely see a higher volume of referrals and therefore agency revenue. If an agency can show a positive impact on both readmission rates and patient satisfaction scores, it is more likely to become a preferred referral partner. Agencies with more five-star quality rankings will also be well-positioned under changing regulations.

Patient engagement is at the forefront of health care policy and telehealth is one strategy that is both effective and cost-efficient. Whether you choose to invest in health information technology that will meet all of your patient engagement needs or instruct staff members to manually engage with patients, implementing patient engagement programs will have a clear impact on your agency’s bottom line.

John Banks Powell, VP of Post-Acute Strategies, obtained his Bachelor’s from UNC-Chapel Hill and his Master’s from Duke University. Powell spearheads CipherHealth's post-acute and bundled payment initiatives by partnering with providers across the care continuum. When Powell isn’t helping post-acute providers reach organizational goals, he can be found 30,000 feet in the air piloting planes.