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 harmed 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, however, we can revitalize rural healthcare. And the main mechanism for doing so is through home hospital care models, like Contessa’s.
By embracing telehealth and moving select care from a hospital bed to the home, Contessa has allowed those living in rural communities to reduce time spent in the hospital or eliminate the visit altogether. Instead, they are able to recover in the comfort of their home and can spend more time with their families in a familiar environment.
While the home hospital 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 less staff, 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, with one issue facing rural communities being lower quality data coverage. Contessa has specifically tailored its platform to be compatible with 3G service, allowing it to function seamlessly with several 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, both geographically and emotionally, made the most sense for her.
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 of these 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 truly has never been a better time for rural hospitals to implement hospital at home capabilities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government issued waivers allowing hospitals to provide more broadly care at home to Medicare and Medicaid patients. Now, there’s talk that these waivers may become permanent, or at least modified to make home care more thoroughly covered than before.
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.