CarePort and WellSky recently hosted a panel that discussed the use of care coordination technologies to optimize referral management processes and improve patient care. Joining panel host Kraig McKinley, Area Vice President at CarePort, was Mike Gregory, RN, Chief Patient Advocacy Officer at Intrepid USA Healthcare, and Susan Caputo, BSN, MPA, Vice President of Business Development at Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY). Intrepid and VNSNY have used CarePort to effectively manage increased referrals over the last year, offering both organizations real-world insights for better patient care. Below we discuss two central themes discussed during the panel, both of which are bolstered by CarePort data.
COVID-19 and home health referral volumes
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, non-essential care and elective procedures were put on hold, negatively impacting hospital inpatient volumes and creating a significant trickle-down effect for post-acute care providers. CarePort data shows that during March and April 2020, patient referrals to home health dropped 32 percentage points; similarly, Intrepid saw a 30% dip in admissions volumes between March and May 2020. VNSNY was also impacted, as New York was hit early and hard by COVID-19, and hospitals, nursing homes, and home health agencies alike lacked appropriate PPE to care for patients.
Over time, however, a nationwide shift to home-based care has resulted in increased referrals for the home health industry. Based off of the 2019 baseline, CarePort data shows a continued increase in home health market share; as of February 2021, home health referrals had reached 98% of 2019 totals. Said Intrepid’s Mike Gregory, “We’re going to continue to see the increased utilization of home health, palliative and hospice – which has been underutilized from the beginning… as people realize they can get the same quality of care in their homes. Even when elective surgeries come back, I think we’re going to see a lot more people going directly home.”
With increased referrals to home health, care coordination technologies like CarePort can help home health providers achieve operational effectiveness and serve as a better referral partner for hospitals, physician groups, and ACOs – particularly in the absence of on-site home health liaisons in hospitals, face-to-face interactions, and traditional “warm” handoffs. CarePort helps close communication gaps exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and provides cross-continuum providers with full clinical visibility into a patient’s care.
Increasing acuity in home health patients
As home health providers navigate these increased referral volumes while maintaining high-quality care, they are also tasked with treating higher-acuity patients. Though referral volumes to home health have recovered strongly, SNF referral volumes still lag behind, and those sicker, chronically ill patients are instead seeking home-based care. As referral volumes began to return to pre-pandemic levels, both VNSNY and Intrepid reported seeing higher-acuity patients. CarePort data highlights this trend, showing that home health patient acuity has increased 7% from 2019 to 2020. Further, among patients referred to home health, CarePort data shows an 8% increase in the prevalence of dementia, a 21% increase in the prevalence of respiratory failure, and a 17% increase in the prevalence of kidney failure – among other complex conditions.
With more acute patients under their care, care coordination tools have been critical to home health providers, said Intrepid’s Mike Gregory, in maximizing care quality for patients while minimizing organizational costs. For hospital providers, these technologies also help ensure a patient’s care plan is in place, and that the first home health visit is scheduled, before the patient goes home. More than ever before, as home health increasingly resembles “SNF at home”, home health care patients require close monitoring. Leveraging CarePort, both Intrepid and VNSNY can offer referral partners increased visibility into home health care to ensure patients receive appropriate, high-quality care post-hospital discharge.