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Using Home Health Care to Improve the Patient Experience

Home health care can improve the patient experience and care outcomes at a lower cost by supporting better follow-up treatment.

Home health care is effective in improving the patient experience at a lower cost.

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Healthcare professionals can use home health care to improve the patient experience by delivering strong patient and caregiver education and by allowing patients to recover comfortably.

This will be important as experts in all specialties look for strategies to improve the patient experience, especially as the industry focuses on the importance of consumer preference. Home health care can also help providers meet patient needs at a lower price point.

Home health care is almost exactly as it sounds, according to Medicare.gov.

“Home health care is a wide range of health care services that can be given in your home for an illness or injury,” the website stated. “Home health care is usually less expensive, more convenient, and just as effective as care you get in a hospital or skilled nursing facility (SNF).”

Home health care can play an important role in follow-up treatment and chronic care management. Although home health care professionals work to improve upon adverse health conditions, these clinicians are also responsible for patient education.

READ MORE: Patient Engagement Strategies for Post-Discharge Follow-Up Care

“The goal of home health care is to treat an illness or injury,” Medicare.gov said. “Home health care helps you get better, regain your independence, and become as self-sufficient as possible.”

Home health care includes numerous different services, including:

  • Wound care
  • Patient and caregiver education
  • Intravenous and nutrition therapy
  • Injections
  • Monitoring of conditions or unstable health status

This type of care has become a boon for the healthcare industry. There are over 12,000 home health care service providers in the US that serve nearly 4.9 million patients, per 2014 data from the CDC. This growing prevalence of home health care may be due to its smaller financial footprint.

It is widely accepted that home health care is less expensive than inpatient hospital care. Additionally, many healthcare experts believe patients prefer to recover in their own homes as soon as possible.

With this growing popularity, it will be important for industry professionals to understand home care and its effects on the overall patient experience.

Home health care supports good patient experience

READ MORE: Driving Follow-Up Care, Patient Engagement with Health IT

Generally, patients value home health care options because they would prefer to recover at home instead of in a hospital bed. A patient’s home is likely more comfortable, both for the body and the mind, than a busy hospital.

Hospitals are also filled with other patients who are sick, leaving a patient who otherwise could recover at home liable for a hospital-acquired infection or sepsis.

A 2013 study showed that patients who were discharged early and received at-home rehabilitation had higher patient satisfaction scores than those who were rehabilitated in the hospital.

The Alliance for Home Health Quality and Innovation (AHHQI) also acknowledged the value at-home care has on patient satisfaction in a 2014 whitepaper.

“Older Americans and Americans with disabilities prefer to age in place and receive care at home,” AHHQI said. “When care is delivered at home, patients are able to obtain truly patient-centered care.”

READ MORE: CMS Introduces Home Health Patient Satisfaction Star Ratings

Additionally, the organization contended that patients who are receiving care in their preferred location are more likely to adhere to care management plans, improving their overall health and preventing avoidable readmissions and costs.

While home health care can be integral to meeting patient preference, it is also important for driving the quality of care, another key indicator of a positive patient experience.

“Quality home care is critical to ensuring patients continue to receive treatment after a hospital stay for medical conditions that may require it,” says Johns Hopkins Medicine, which operates Johns Hopkins Home Care Group and Potomac Home Health Care.

“Effective communication and compassionate care from home health providers ensures patients and families understand how to manage their health condition, which can help to prevent a hospital readmission,” the organization continued.

Home health care is an important part of follow-up care because it transitions patients into self-efficacy and self-management training. The home health care provider must tend to physical needs and teach patients and their caregivers about the process of maintaining health and chronic care management plan.

Measuring home health care quality, efficacy

Medicare and Medicaid are two of the primary payers for at-home care, and are instrumental in measuring quality of home health care.

CMS prominently utilizes HHCAHPS, the home health CAHPS assessment, to measure the patient experience with a home health care provider and quality care.

HHCAHPS assessments ask patients about the communication they had with their home health care providers, including whether providers asked about medications the patient took and assessed the home for patient safety.

The survey also asks patients about how their providers listened to them, if the patient was treated with respect, and how providers managed patient pain.

Additionally, the survey asked patients about their communication with the home health agency office and their current health status.

CMS uses HHCAHPS survey data to make certain payments to home health agencies and to create their home health Compare Star Ratings.

As with hospital Star Ratings, these patient-facing tools should help patients and their families make informed decisions about where to seek treatment. Currently, a home health agency needs at least 20 episodes of care to qualify for the Star Ratings.

In addition to the HHCAHPS survey results, CMS uses a set of nine quality measures to determine the Star Ratings. These include process of care measures (how the care was delivered) and outcomes measures (how patient health is progressing).

As the healthcare industry continues to work to deliver high-quality patient care at a lower cost, home health care is likely to remain a mainstay. The service is consistently delivered at a lower price tag than inpatient hospital care, and meets patient preferences to receive treatment at home.

Home health care is also integral in chronic or long-term care management. Home care providers are leaders in patient education and help facilitate self-efficacy.

In the long run, this will ideally lead to fewer health complications, preventable hospital readmissions, and healthcare costs.

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