Regulations, Technology and the Positive Impact on Patient Care
Shanon Tranchina of New York doesn’t care how her 4-year-old daughter’s care providers meet the new The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Conditions of Participation (CoP) rule that went into effect on January 13. She doesn’t even care that they exist. She also doesn’t need to know which technology her home healthcare provider is using while she’s visiting her child. She only cares that – during the time the providers are there – her daughter’s leukemia treatment is carried out in a compassionate, careful way.
Home healthcare agencies, like other medical entities, are currently spending time and capital on required technologies to improve patient care. For instance, the revised CoPs were designed to help home healthcare providers put patients first.
However, as with many regulations, it’s easy to fall into the trap of worrying too much about the process and technology and forgetting everything else. As many organizations have found they may get too focused on implementing changes and overlook the reason the COPs were revised -- the patients and their families – to the detriment of everyone involved.
“Agencies often look at the CoPs as drudgery,” agrees Kim Gaffey, CEO and founder of Gaffey Home Nursing and Hospice Inc., based in Illinois. “But when you think about how technology can change the way a provider can interact with the patient it completely changes the conversation.”
Technology Improves Outcome
Gaffey Home Nursing and Hospice has been happy with its use of technology because it makes it easier for employees to do their jobs, helping patients directly. Several years ago the organization implemented the Forcura document workflow platform and mobile app and, since then, has gone completely paperless.
Cost savings aside, the benefits to Gaffey patients are tremendous. Now, with everything handled electronically, nurses aren’t misplacing orders or waiting too long for information from physicians. This is significant since, according to a study from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, medical errors often occur when there are communication failures between physicians and home health providers.
With automated information capture and sharing, everyone has access to standardized information so, as a result, patient outcome is better, says Gaffey, who reports that -- at Gaffey Home Nursing and Hospice -- outcomes have improved by 25 percent, and patient re-hospitalization is down 30 percent. There are also significant benefits for the care providers, patients, and families in the field, she says.
“Three years ago our biggest patient complaint was that our PT would come in when a bath aid was there or a nurse would show up two hours late because she got delayed by another patient. There was too much personnel overlap and patients and their families would get upset,” she says. “Care was too bunched up.”
Now, through technology, coordination of care is HIPAA-compliant and standardized. Nurses can communicate with each other and the patient, so expectations are managed and patients aren’t left waiting or stressed out by too many visitors at once. Customer satisfaction is way up because of this, according to Gaffey. “A patient’s trust and satisfaction impact how well he or she heals,” she says. “When patients know what’s going on they feel more comfortable and at ease.”
Technology also gives clinicians the ability to come to a patient’s bedside with more confidence whether they are the first care provider to come in or the tenth since they have instant access to a patient’s records. This puts patients at ease, too. And, since CoPs require agencies to detail a patient’s plan of care as well as a list of the patient’s strengths and weaknesses, any advanced directives, and the risk of re-hospitalization, patient needs are met more easily.
Looking Toward the Future
Home health providers should see even more improvements to their ability to care for patients as new technologies such as sensors, wearables, artificial intelligence, virtual and assistant reality, and other in-home devices start making inroads in the home healthcare market.
A recent Harvard Business Review story details how voice-assistant technologies could one day walk caregivers through a procedure or help them gain instant access to information. Telehealth and electronic visit verification (EVV) in homecare will also see a big push this year as CMS gets ready to implement under the federal 21st Century Cures Act a mandate that all Medicaid-reimbursed home care providers use EVV by January 1 of next year.
These technologies face challenges, though. For example, a November 2017 study by Black Book found that 71 percent of home health providers surveyed said that their information technology and patient data exchanges were either non-existent or extremely poor. Ten percent said they were minimal or underutilized. Bottom line: Providers are finding it difficult if not impossible to share patient data electronically.
Interoperability is at the core of these problems. Whether you’re looking at an EHR or a tablet that lets a patient track their own vital signs, if a piece of technology can’t communicate and interact it becomes something that’s got a massive uphill battle for acceptance and return on investment.
Going forward, agencies will need to be aware of interoperability issues and look to fix them so that the patient and his or her needs are met. Most important, agencies should be aware that technology should never be purchased or implemented just for technology’s sake. Everything should go back to making patient care better and communication clearer, says one expert.
“If we didn’t have technology, we wouldn’t have the ability to treat patients in the home,” explains Gaffey. “With technology, patients have access to their own medical information and nurses are able to come in and care for them in real time. Technology enables the patient-centered care model.”
At Forcura our perspective is always that technology is never only for the sake of technology. We are committed to developing technology and supporting regulations that promote the people on the receiving end of healthcare - the patients. It is their voices and the care providers that serve them that we listen to as we look for new technology innovations.
Annie Erstling leads strategy and marketing for Forcura. She has experience launching new brands, products and companies in the healthcare, technology, hospitality and consumer products industries on both the corporate and agency side of marketing. Connect with Annie on LinkedIn.