Written by Todd Bellemare, SVP Professional Services
This is part three of our special multi-part blog series on how COVID-19 impacted nearly every part of the healthcare industry.
The first two posts on this journey tracked telehealth’s astonishing growth in 2020 and the nuances that contributed to the gradual decline and plateau in its adoption.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how at-home healthcare was affected by the pandemic and some of the new challenges providers need to consider.
How the pandemic changed at-home care
Prior to the pandemic, there were five million people in 2019 receiving care at home. As the coronavirus spread and patients felt reluctant to go to public places, this number increased to 12 million by the end of 2020.
What’s causing this growth?
Just like telehealth, at-home care was already on the rise pre-pandemic. Many older adults and people living with disabilities or chronic conditions found at-home care to be more comfortable, convenient and personalized compared to receiving care at a long-term care facility or nursing home.
Demand for at-home care increased dramatically as the pandemic continued, as 11% of COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals transitioned into at-home care. This shift, likely encouraged by lockdowns, social distancing and fewer people willing to see their doctor at the office, resulted in new populations of patients across the health spectrum and age groups being introduced to at-home care.
Why more patients prefer at-home care
There are many reasons why patients find at-home care suitable to their lifestyle and wellbeing, many of which could potentially result in improved health outcomes. At-home care can be:
Convenient for any patient, but especially so for people living with disabilities or chronic conditions. It could potentially be less expensive to arrange for an at-home appointment than transportation from a private company or social services.
A more personal experience for the patient, as the physician can provide them with their full and undivided attention.
A safer way for patients to receive care. Patients can potentially reduce the risk of infection or virus transmission by avoiding the doctor’s office and meeting with their physician in their own home.
More comprehensive. Physicians can gain crucial insights into their patients’ daily lives and environment that may be missed otherwise, potentially leading to a more detailed diagnosis and treatment plan.
Dialysis is a good fit for at-home care
As demand for at-home care grew, many patients with chronic conditions explored this appealing option. Dialysis treatment, which was already seeing strong adoption of at-home care, continued to grow over 2020 and 2021.
From the chart above, we see a gradual rise in patients receiving at-home dialysis treatment throughout 2020 and 2021. There were about 62,000 patient visits in Q1 of 2020. This trend would increase to over 74,000 patient visits by Q2 of 2021.
These considerable increases in patient visits are likely due to the severity of kidney disease, the need for consistent treatment and the need for treatment to be administered with a machine and the assistance of a technician.
The metrics pose interesting questions about the future of dialysis treatment. We may see shifts in the healthcare landscape as dialysis centers consider accommodating the growing demand for at-home treatment in the years to come. These organizations may look to expand into new territories with new treatment centers, or alternatively, may choose to invest in developing programs to meet patients where they are and administer care at their homes.
What does this mean for the future of at-home care?
The pandemic changed how patients and providers thought about at-home care, despite more people receiving care in their own homes than ever before.
Studies reported that both patients and home health aides feared infection and virus transmission, leading to the cancelation or suspension of select services. Healthcare providers looking to expand their at-home care services or break into this space should consider the following:
Safety concerns, as healthcare professionals will have little knowledge of the state of their patient’s home before they enter.
Medicare policy and procedure changes.
New logistical challenges, such as investing in specialized healthcare software and scheduling tools.
Tracking the administration of drugs physicians take with them for at-home visits.
Like telehealth, at-home care isn’t going away anytime soon. But it won’t be a catch-all solution either. Providers will need to develop new strategies to navigate the obstacles above and adapt to the evolving healthcare market. In the not-too-distant future, it’s likely at-home care will be one more tool in the physician’s toolbox. For patients, at-home care is another way for them to take control over where and how they receive the care they need.
Did you miss an entry in our multi-part series on the technology and healthcare specialties impacted by COVID-19? Catch up on telehealth’s explosive rise and fall in our first post, its decline in our second post, or jump to the final entry.
Each post in this series draws upon healthcare commercial intelligence from our platform to illustrate how the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the healthcare market. You can learn more by starting a free trial.