Keeping at-risk patient populations – such as the elderly and those with chronic conditions and clinical trial participants – healthy during an unprecedented health crisis is critically important. For quarantined and isolated individuals, maintaining close contact with care providers and adhering to medication therapies has never been more vital.
Telemedicine has an essential role to play in the coming weeks, months, and beyond. Recent changes from CMS are designed to give more patient access to care through telehealth programs, with the goal of improving care access while helping to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus. That’s good news, especially for individuals that face higher risk of illness due to their age or ongoing health conditions.
Telehealth offerings are unique, powerful tools that can aid in the support of in-home care and help ease the burden on the healthcare system, while providing a method to help elderly and chronically ill patient populations avoid potential exposure.
For example, in addition to video-based visits that are routinely associated with telemedicine, providers can consider providing in-home care tools and devices to help patients with their prescriptions and health monitoring.
Pairing pre-packed prescriptions with telemedicine appointments and interactions is one such option. Medications could be mailed to patients and dispensed as prescribed throughout the day. To further support at-home care, the prescription setup could be combined with a biometric device that collects patients’ health data, such as blood pressure, glucose levels, blood oxygen levels and weight to share with the patient’s primary care physician and other members of the patient’s care team.
By pre-packing prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs, and sending them directly to patients’ homes, patients don’t have to travel to shopping areas and multiple pharmacies to get them. Moreover, these types of technologies offer patients a different method to help them take their medications as directed, improving medication adherence.
Combined with the ability to connect using virtual appointments and consultations with pharmacists and healthcare providers, patients can engage more actively in their treatment and overall health, which can put them in a better position to face a situation like the Covid-19 spread or an extended flu season.
Further, if this kind of technology could be offered as a cloud-based solution and combined with adherence reporting and summary dashboards, providers would have opportunity to both better understand how patients are taking their medicines and support patients with answers to their health and medication-related questions.
Overall, the advantages of connected health using a combination of telemedicine appointments and at-home devices can extend beyond any potential exposure concerns. When done correctly, connected in-home care can be as good as an office or clinic visit – offering a potentially safer and faster path to diagnosis and treatment.
Initial considerations for integrated telehealth services for high-risk populations
While there’s been an increase in the number of care providers offering telemedicine in response to the 2020 pandemic, few currently offer telehealth programs as an integrated service for their high-risk populations.
Initiating new telehealth programs requires a number of elements, the first of which is an active strategy to increase provider comfort with the technology. Collaboration will also be needed to ensure connected care is a recognized and accepted standard of care for certain examinations, monitoring and treatment of patients.
Additionally, as with any new technology, a standardized approach for the infrastructure to support telehealth can go a long way in driving affordable technology. That, along with reimbursement incentives, can influence providers to adopt and promote in-home connected care options.
Patient education and training is also important. Many patients today are unfamiliar with what telehealth is or how it can help them. Some may be unaccustomed to video conferencing, especially with their provider. Patients are more likely to engage in new treatment routines through a provider they know and trust and using technology they’re familiar with. New telemedicine programs need to be able to accommodate a range of devices and technology skill levels. Additionally, any new required equipment for patients and providers should be easy to use, and programs will need to actively communicate the methods being used to secure data and protect patient privacy. Both are key to enlisting patients in integrated at-home care.
Maintaining a personal level of care
Ultimately, this current situation where social distancing is critical in protecting vulnerable populations presents a clear opportunity to reshape healthcare delivery to integrate telehealth and virtual visits as core care options for high-risk patients.
Using in-home connected care to help maintain a personal level of care with high-acuity patients – without putting them at increased risk with unnecessary medical visits – is a viable treatment option. The COVID-19 response bill that will allow Medicare reimbursement for care providers using telehealth to treat seniors at home is a critical first step, but we need to do more to enable healthcare professionals to provide patients with the best care and in a timely manner for all populations.