How Hospital Care at Home Supports Rural Healthcare
Over the last several decades, a combination of factors has left America’s small towns with fewer hospitals, clinics and doctors. All of these have altered the patient experience, with long journeys to receive care becoming an unfortunate hallmark of small-town life.
Through a combination of dedicated health systems, willing payers and up-to-date regulation, rural healthcare can be revitalized. And the main mechanism for doing so is through comprehensive home-based care models, like Contessa’s.
By embracing telehealth and moving select care from a hospital bed to the home, Contessa has helped those living in rural communities to reduce time spent in the hospital or eliminate the visit altogether. Instead, they recover in the comfort of their home and can spend more time with their families in a familiar environment.
While the hospital at home care model certainly benefits patients, hospital administrators see tremendous upside as well. By transitioning some care to the home, hospitals are able to do more with less. They can treat more patients with fewer staff members, receiving the same levels of reimbursement while deploying doctors and nurses more efficiently.
Contessa’s model also allows hospitals to better maintain their physical footprints. Diverting patients with less dire conditions to their home frees up hospital beds for the sickest of the sick, helping smaller regional hospitals support sustainable volumes and stay afloat for the communities who truly need them.
Breaking Down Barriers
Barriers to healthcare access and quality vary widely across the country, and rural markets are often hit the hardest. A common solution to one of these issues, telehealth, is sometimes seen as an urban phenomenon. Because rural communities often have lower quality data coverage, practicing medicine can quickly become more challenging than it should be. Contessa has specifically tailored its platform to be compatible with 3G service, allowing it to function seamlessly with rural hospitals.
Contessa’s partner, Prisma Health, in South Carolina has improved the patient experience by shifting the location of care to the home. Enabling care teams to monitor patients and examine them virtually allows teams to better serve patients in rural markets. “By the time I saw my doctor on the tablet, she had already reviewed my labs and vitals. Everything was virtual! I felt like my doctor was fully informed and understood my condition,” said Prisma patient Kay Hiott. Hiott’s ability to stay home for treatment alleviated an intensive commute to and from care locations, allowing her to recover in a place that made the most sense for her, both geographically and emotionally.
Another Contessa partner and leading provider network in rural healthcare is Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin. While payers have often slowed the pace of change in the telehealth space, Marshfield Clinic had a unique way to solve this: it owned the main insurance provider in the area. By tailoring the insurance plan to cover home care equally, Marshfield Clinic and Contessa were able to set the standard of home hospital care for the communities the Clinic serves.
In both markets, patients and physicians are embracing the hospital at home model for the myriad benefits it offers. Its many advantages lend themselves to the needs of rural healthcare providers.
There has never been a more critical time for rural hospitals to consider and implement hospital at home capabilities. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government issued waivers allowing hospitals to provide more broadly care at home to Medicare and Medicaid patients. Hospitals who have been approved for the waivers, several of which are Contessa partners, have proven that this sustainable and financially savvy approach to value-based care is not going away anytime soon. Hospitals must evolve to meet patients where they are and get paid for it in a way that rewards better outcomes, otherwise the long-term impacts could continue to drive up the costs of care for all parties.
Rural hospitals are uniquely positioned to capitalize on this opportunity. With a larger percentage of patients having Medicare or Medicaid in rural communities when compared to more urban areas, regulatory changes create an opportunity for rural hospitals to reach critical mass and implement hospital at home operations.