Navigating Patient Home Care During COVID-19 and Beyond

Home infusion of specialty medications was an outpatient service offered to patients before the pandemic started; however, with COVID-19, home infusion became more important than ever.

The word “home” took on new meaning last year as we navigated the changes and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fewer people seeking outpatient medical visits resulted in fewer prescriptions administered in a provider setting and an uptick in pharmacy-administered drug use.1

Pharmacies offered fast home delivery of medications for free or low cost and the health care system witnessed the rapid growth of home health services. Even before COVID-19, surveys showed that patients preferred virtual visits that cut back on travel time and made their lives easier.

Home infusion of specialty medications was an outpatient service offered to patients before the pandemic started; however, with COVID-19, home infusion became more important than ever by allowing patients the safety of remaining in their own home and reducing their risk of exposure. Providers know that patients who choose to receive therapy at home are receiving comprehensive care that can increase compliance and adherence.

Not only is home infusion safer and more convenient for patients, there are benefits for everyone, including providers and payers. Research shows that 99% of patients using Optum home infusion services remain infection-free, compared to 97% for patients who receive their treatments in a hospital setting.

Additionally, in a safe home environment, payers know that their members are receiving excellent care at the lowest cost, with results showing that home infusion saves between $1928 and $2974 per treatment—and can save the US health care system $40 billion over 10 years.2

Looking Ahead: Additional Home Care Trends and Drivers

As we start to emerge from COVID-19 in the United States, patients are beginning to use home care in new ways. Several trends have come to light that are expected to continue influencing adoption and drive use of home care services, especially in specialty pharmacy for patients requiring high-touch care.

Telehealth/Telemedicine Advocacy: Services such as telehealth, in-home care, and infusions result in greater cost-savings—consumers can save between $19 and $121 for every telemedicine visit.4 It’s also often safer and more convenient.

Seamlessly delivering care that is adaptable from in-home to in-person visits and offering a connected network of integrated services is a key driver of home-care trends. The tools and technology to make these services possible will undoubtedly continue to improve and expand.

Innovations for remote patient monitoring, telemedicine delivery channels, and stronger collaborations between providers, pharmacists, long-term care facilities, and clinics are refining the telehealth of tomorrow.

Prior to COVID-19, there were several restrictions mandated at the federal level regarding the types of service covered in a telehealth setting. As the need to support overburdened hospital systems and provide greater safety precautions became apparent, more than 80 new medical services were authorized by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to allow coverage for telehealth visits, including mental and behavioral health, ophthalmology, and cardiology.3

Even at the federal level, evolving telehealth policies allow greater access to services and delivery technologies. Of the 60%–90% of providers who are using telehealth, half are a result of COVID-19.3

Home medication delivery also increased during the pandemic and continues to play an important role in remote-based health care. Patients who receive prescriptions via virtual visits can have their medications delivered, often at no charge, and sometimes within 24 hours.

Integrated Mental and Behavioral Health Care: A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 4 in 10 US adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic, up from 1 in 10 adults in 2019. COVID-19 and the drastic lifestyle changes that followed succeeded in shining a light on the importance of mental health as part of a holistic care experience.5

Receiving care in the comfort and convenience of the home has been shown to improve patients’ physical and mental wellbeing. In addition to telepsychiatry options, OptumRx integrates mental health checks with patients and can seamlessly refer them to care through Genoa pharmacies to treat the whole patient and realize improved health outcomes.

COVID-19 resulted in many changes to the health care landscape. As we continue to navigate the future of home health care options, it is important to keep in mind that the biggest barrier to care is cost. It’s no secret that the rising cost of health care, especially in specialty medicine, is a concern across the board.

One of the benefits—and reasons for growing adoption of home health services—is that it drives affordability for patients and payers. With the benefits far outweighing any hurdles or challenges, home care services will continue to be a vital option for specialty patients for years to come.

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References

  1. Avalere. COVID-19 Complicates Access to Provider-Administered Autoimmune Treatments. Published April 16, 2020.
  2. CHCR https://www.unitedhealthgroup.com/newsroom/posts/2019-09-09-reducing-specialty-drug-costs.html
  3. https://www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/digital/telehealth-s-post-pandemic-future-where-do-we-go-here, September 7, 2020
  4. https://www.ajemjournal.com/article/S0735-6757(18)30653-3/fulltext
  5. https://www.genoahealthcare.com/insights/blog-post/serving-our-communities-during-the-pandemic/