Seeking medical attention is typically envisioned as checking into a hospital and receiving most necessary care there. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has hastened the already-growing field of telemedicine, leading to more medical professionals finding ways to care for patients in their own homes. Moreover, strained public trust in hospitals, particularly amongst underserved communities, leads to a reluctance to pursue traditional medical care. Because of this, some medical professionals are exploring ways to deliver care to patients in their homes.
Traditionally, telehealth has been used as a tool for low-impact connections, with doctors able to prescribe medications, perform basic checkups, and better engage with patients. All of this is a good start, but further innovations in healthcare technology are allowing some companies to push the boundaries of what can be accomplished in a private setting. Recent evidence suggests that some conditions can be better treated in a home environment for a lower cost. An article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that patient costs were, on average, 38% less expensive if conducted in a home. They also found that readmittance rates within 30 days were lower.
The key to bringing affordable in-home care to patients lies with legislation. Since November, the federal government has approved 103 hospitals in 28 states to reimburse services for certain conditions at the same rate as in-hospital services. This is obviously not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction, particularly where insurance companies are involved.
A growing number of companies are improving the technology necessary to make in-home care feasible for patients. Wearable technology has been on the upswing for some time, but some even more sophisticated sensors can allow healthcare providers to monitor chronic diseases and overall health. Even for patients not in need of hospitalization, it’s likely that such devices will continue to grow in popularity amongst the public. Improvements in the scope and processing power of such things make wearables even more invisible in an at-home setting.
Still, equipping a home with everything required for patient care comes with challenges. Staff need to be available to get in touch with a patient at a moment’s notice or vice versa, and hospital equipment such as IVs and oxygen may need to be deployed, with skilled technicians for setup. Also required on the software end is an algorithm advanced enough to process the data and interpret it in a meaningful way for healthcare providers. Some artificial intelligence startups have caught onto the value of AI in healthcare and have directed their work toward developing such software. And, as with many other aspects of healthcare, a personalized relationship between a patient and their care team is necessary for smooth communication and success.
For many patients, tackling one condition means tackling others. This can also mean addressing complications from a single disease, such as diabetes. Technology companies are also working on solutions for easy monitoring and reporting of patient conditions, such as test results automatically uploaded to the cloud and providing avenues for easy physician support. Such measures alongside other telehealth innovations provide a path forward for patients to spend less time and provide more insight on their health, further easing the necessity of hospital visits.
Moving toward personalized in-home care is a slow road, and one that will still face the same accessibility hurdles as traditional care. However, offsetting the burden of hospitals and providing better comfort for patients could be key to bettering health outcomes for all involved.