As the COVID-19 virus and its rapidly developing variants continue to disrupt the home health care industry, the need for home health providers continues to grow, with patients, payers and providers all seeing the benefits of moving care into the home. With that shift comes an increased need for better care collaboration.

“When I was a hospital CIO years ago, we wanted our beds filled,” says Linda Fischer, Senior Vice President of Care Collaboration at health care technology company DrFirst. “Now hospitals are better off when their beds are empty because of the value-based payment systems.”

As a result of those systems, along with other factors, home health is a rapidly growing health care segment.

“Communication and the sharing of real-time information has to be spread across multiple caregivers and clinicians, all of whom are in different locations,” Fischer says. “You need to be able to communicate around and with the patient at all times.”
The Backline difference: summarizing hundreds of pages of documents

At DrFirst, this communication challenge gave rise to Backline, an all-in-one, HIPAA-compliant clinical collaboration and communication platform with telehealth capabilities, including secure text messaging, patient alerts, electronic document sharing and other care coordination features. DrFirst introduced Backline more than eight years ago, but its use expanded significantly when the pandemic made telehealth and virtual care more crucial than ever.

The Backline platform gives agencies a range of benefits, including:

Virtual visits with the patient
Patient-centered collaboration with extended care teams over text or video
Connections with family members and loved ones
Ability to complete electronic documents, such as medical consents and power of attorney forms
Ability to share educational materials with patients
Coordination of resources and scheduling
Ticketing functionality
Streamlined referrals

All of these capabilities support better care transitions, which Fischer calls “one of the biggest gaps in health care.”

“Previously, not only did a primary care physician not know their patient was discharged from the hospital, but he or she may not have even known the patient had been admitted because the patient was treated by hospitalists during their stay,” she says. “When a patient is discharged, they receive printed instructions that they often simply discard. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up discharge papers from a parking lot floor.”

Instead, care collaboration technology improves efficiency, workflows, care and outcomes. Specifically, Backline reduces continuity of care documents (CCD) from hundreds of pages down to the most important information, all delivered in a series of automatic notifications to physicians upon a patient’s admission and discharge.

“Upon discharge of a patient, their primary care physician will get a CCD that can be 300-to-500 pages of details no one is interested in,” Fischer says. “We summarize that CCD, parse the pertinent information, and send it automatically to the physician’s office so follow-up can occur. Most errors in communication occur at that transition of care.”
Top 4 benefits of care collaboration

Maximizing reimbursement and revenue

Fischer identifies four main benefits of care collaboration technology. The first two are value-adds to a home health agency: maximizing reimbursement and revenue, driven largely by streamlined documentation. When a patient needs a walker, for instance, a nurse must order the walker, then get a physician to sign the order. Without that signature, the home health agency does not get reimbursed.

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“One of the biggest challenges for home health care is the transition of care and the sharing of documents between a sending facility and the home health care, or receiving facility,” Fischer says. “That can be done automatically via Backline. The home health care agency can receive documents ahead of time, do medication reconciliation immediately and get first doses of medication ready.”

Automating this process helps decrease delays to patient care. This is crucial for maximizing revenue, because if an agency delays treatment for a day or two, it will not get paid for those days.

Minimizing readmissions and expenses

Streamlining documentation and care collaboration improves patient care, which leads to one of the key goals in value-based models: reducing hospital readmissions. Care collaboration also helps agencies manage chronic disease, which keeps patients out of the hospital, decreasing readmission rates and lowering the cost of treatment due to care settings.

“Backline facilitates simple communication that has a major impact on outcomes,” Fischer explains. “If I’m a case manager and I’m monitoring a patient with congestive heart failure, I can send an automatic message to my patient saying, ‘Remember to weigh yourself, and if you see more than a two-pound weight gain in a 24-hour period, reach out to me immediately.’ Case managers can be proactive and start interventions immediately, which helps prevent a readmission and supports a positive patient outcome.”

Backline delivers secure, real-time information to clinicians at any point of encounter with a given patient. And with the rise in behavioral health needs as well as health needs for under-insured people, care collaboration technology is opening the door for new levels of importance for the home health industry.

“Home health care for post-acute care has always focused on the most well-insured patients,” Fischer says. “But we have a large population that is affected by social deterrents and is underserved. Home health care is advancing the care of that population. Even many homeless patients have smartphones, making it possible to do a telehealth visit when the patient has no permanent address or transportation.”

As care models shift, it’s vital to improve collaboration at every transition of care so patients, payers and providers can realize the benefits of better efficiency, workflows, care and outcomes.

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