Editorials

The Promise and Challenge of Home Health Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

Am Fam Physician. 2020 Jul 1;102(1):8-9.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection, has affected all parts of the United States, including more than two-thirds of rural counties.1,2 The pandemic has overwhelmed health care systems in many communities.3 Home health services (i.e., medical services provided in patients' homes by teams of health aides, nurses, and case managers, together called home health providers) aim to avoid hospitalization and keep patients healthy and independent in their own surroundings.4 The COVID-19 pandemic presents family physicians with unique opportunities to work with home health providers to combat the pandemic, provide quality care, and ease the burden of fear among patients.

Many patients who are not infected with SARS-CoV-2 rely on unverified information, with some going to the hospital unnecessarily and others waiting too long to seek care for their underlying chronic medical conditions.5 Patients are additionally reporting fear of being exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or exposing others.6 During the COVID-19 pandemic, home health providers can assist family physicians in educating their patients on social distancing, mask use, and hand hygiene, as well as addressing chronic health conditions and general fears. Additionally, given the rapid transition to telemedicine, home health providers can help navigate new difficulties in communication for patients with limited English proficiency, those who lack access to videoconferencing technology, and those with concomitant hearing deficits who rely on visual cues.5,7

Hospital at Home is a service model in which health care professionals provide active treatment in the patient's home for a condition that normally would require acute inpatient care. By optimizing the use of home health providers, family physicians can employ the Hospital at Home model for managing otherwise stable patients with newly diagnosed SARS-CoV-2 infections.8 As shown with other health conditions, an early-discharge Hospital at Home model reduces length of hospitalization and cost of care without affecting mortality or hospital readmission rates.9 This model can therefore help decrease the burden of COVID-19 care on hospitals in settings where primary care is scarce or overwhelmed. Because trained home health providers can collect biological samples from the patient's home for processing in laboratories, they can assist with point-of-care at-home molecular diagnostic testing as it becomes available.10,11 In coordination with public health officials, home health providers can also help trace community contacts of infected patients and monitor people in home quarantine, which are critical to halt the spread of COVID-19.8

Data on the usefulness of this approach come from Italy, where two neighboring regions with similar socioeconomic profiles adopted different strategies toward managing COVID-19. The region of Veneto, which placed a strong emphasis on home diagnosis and care, including the use of home health services, had much lower disease prevalence and mortality rates than the region of Lombardy, which did not adopt this approach.10

It is likely that telemonitoring in home health care will increase during the pandemic, allowing home health providers to better serve as health extension agents for family physicians. Telemonitoring may include real-time, audiovideo messaging tools that connect home health providers with patients at different locations and remote patient monitoring tools such as smart thermometers, blood pressure monitors, Bluetooth-enabled digital scales, activity trackers (e.g., Fitbit), and other wearable devices that can communicate biometric data to the home health provider for review.

The COVID-19 pandemic has, however, created and exacerbated challenges for home health just at the time of increased need. For example, the stay-at-home measures in most U.S. states and curfew restrictions on many Native American reservations make traveling to patients' homes difficult. Despite broadening of the licensing parameters for skilled home health providers in some states, there is a shortage of home caregivers,12 which is worsened by high rates of staff turnover and burnout.13,14 When medical supply chains have been dysfunctional, home health providers have been forced to ration and reuse personal protective equipment or use homemade alternatives.15 Additionally, appropriately discarding and replacing personal protective equipment during a visit to minimize the risk of viral transmission can be challenging in the home environment. Home health providers report fears of becoming infected, and physicians may also worry about exposing their patients to other people.6 Education and communication are critical to addressing these concerns and providing safe care at home.

Home health providers can play a unique role in the education, diagnosis, and treatment of patients with COVID-19, including home-based monitoring, testing, and tracking quarantine, effectively serving communities and the family physicians who take care of them. The COVID-19 pandemic also allows the opportunity to enhance telemedicine and explore the use of telemonitoring in home health care.16 Family physicians can collaborate with home health providers to work as team members in patient care during the pandemic.

Address correspondence to Akshay Sood, MD, MPH, at asood@salud.unm.edu. Reprints are not available from the authors.

Author disclosure: Jolene Walker, RN, BS, reports holding a small (approximately 0.75%) ownership share in Critical Nurse Staffing, LLC, which provides home health services. Dr. Sood has no relevant financial affiliations.

Published online May 14, 2020

References

show all references

1. Perrella A, Carannante N, Berretta M, et al. Novel coronavirus 2019 (Sars-CoV2): a global emergency that needs new approaches? Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2020;24(4):2162–2164....

2. Healy J, Tavernise S, Gebeloff R, et al. Coronavirus was slow to spread to rural America. Not anymore. New York Times. April 8, 2020. Accessed April 13, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/08/us/coronavirus-rural-america-cases.html

3. Nicoli F, Gasparetto A. Italy in a time of emergency and scarce resources: the need for embedding ethical reflection in social and clinical settings. J Clin Ethics. 2020;31(1):92–94.

4. Barkley PS. A day in the life of a rural home healthcare nurse. Home Healthc Now. 2016;34(9):524–525.

5. Page KR, Venkataramani M, Beyrer C, et al. Undocumented U.S. immigrants and Covid-19 [published online March 27, 2020]. N Engl J Med. Accessed May 3, 2020. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2005953

6. Manderson L, Levine S. COVID-19, risk, fear, and fall-out [published online March 26, 2020]. Med Anthropol. Accessed May 3, 2020. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01459740.2020.1746301

7. Kanji A, Khoza-Shangase K, Ntlhakana L. Noise-induced hearing loss: what South African mineworkers know. Int J Occup Saf Ergon. 2019;25(2):305–310.

8. Keesara S, Jonas A, Schulman K. Covid-19 and health care's digital revolution [published online April 2, 2020]. N Engl J Med. Accessed May 3, 2020. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2005835

9. Gonçalves-Bradley DC, Iliffe S, Doll HA, et al. Early discharge hospital at home. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;(6):CD000356.

10. Pisano GP, Sadun R, Zanini M. Lessons from Italy's response to coronavirus. Harvard Business Review. March 27, 2020. Accessed April 13, 2020. https://hbr.org/2020/03/lessons-from-italys-response-to-coronavirus

11. Cheng MP, Papenburg J, Desjardins M, et al. Diagnostic testing for severe acute respiratory syndrome–related coronavirus-2: a narrative review. Ann Intern Med.. 2020;172(11:726–734.

12. Osterman P. Improving long-term care by finally respecting home-care aides. Hastings Cent Rep. 2018;48(suppl 3):S67–S70.

13. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economic News Release. Table 16: annual total separations rates by industry and region, not seasonally adjusted. Accessed March 17, 2020. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.t16.htm

14. Vander Elst T, Cavents C, Daneels K, et al. Job demands-resources predicting burnout and work engagement among Belgian home health care nurses: a cross-sectional study. Nurs Outlook. 2016;64(6):542–556.

15. Livingston E, Desai A, Berkwits M. Sourcing personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic [published online March 28, 2020]. JAMA. Accessed May 3, 2020. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2764031

16. Moore P, Atkins GT, Cramb S, et al. COPD and rural health: a dialogue on the National Action Plan. J Rural Health. 2019;35(4):424–428.

 

 

Copyright © 2020 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions

CME Quiz

More in AFP


Editor's Collections


Related Content


More in Pubmed

MOST RECENT ISSUE


Oct 15, 2020

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue


Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article