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Taking healthcare beyond hospitals


Home healthcare has been able to step in to ensure that hospitals are able to take care of their patients beyond the hospital. Dr Gaurav Thukral, Chief Operating Officer, of HealthCare atHOME, gives an insight

With disease burden on the rise in India due to ailments triggered by lifestyle changes and geriatric population, the pressure on conventional delivery of medical care systems like hospitals and hospitalisation would be tremendous. One emerging option to ease this pressure is home healthcare.

There is a misconception amongst some in the healthcare industry that home healthcare is a competitor to hospitals. But, at the outright, let me say that home healthcare providers instead of competing, support hospitals as a step down care partner. As hospital crowding, bed limitations and burden on doctors increases, home healthcare steps in to ensure that hospitals are able to take care of their patients beyond the hospital. Hospitals now have the option to have their beds available for more patients by handing over post – operation cases or critically ill but stable patients to a partner which continues to provide the patients with quality care at the comfort of their home.
Organised home healthcare industry stands as a strong support system for the hospitals owing to their investment in world class training for their staff and high quality clinical set ups made available at patient homes. Along with providing visibility to the hospital beyond the hospital by becoming their extended arm, home healthcare providers also become a mechanism for quick feedback and immediate action on it. The importance of closing the feedback loop has become critical due to the unfortunate rise in mistrust towards hospitals.

Also, the general perception about home healthcare services is having a nurse at home or an attendant at home. This is a myth. Home healthcare providers now provide numerous oncology, immunology procedures at home, ICU days at home, emergency handling, care management and are looking after lakhs of patients with a high customer satisfaction rate. With availability of 24*7 remote monitoring systems, leaders of home healthcare industry are also ensuring continuation of expert supervision for the patients from hospital to home.

Some sceptics feel that hospitals may not gain financially by sending patients to home healthcare providers. That is not the case. It is just the opposite. Let me illustrate:
ICU patients with a prolonged recovery trajectory will generate higher revenue for the hospital in the initial days of hospitalisation as compared to subsequent days – thus, leading to a low ARPOB (average revenue per operational bed). Home healthcare partners can provide step down care right after those high revenue initial days, hence, reducing the ALOS (average length of stay) for patients and resulting in higher ARPOB. Along with being profitable for the hospital, this arrangement is more economically viable for the patient as well, as with significantly lower per day cost in case of services like ICU set up at home, their total cost of treatment reduces significantly.
This proves the point that home healthcare providers are partners, not competitors to hospitals. Far from being a competitor, home healthcare can actually help hospitals build their brand and expand their reach. Home healthcare is also a solution for handling difficult long-term patients who may cause a lot of non-clinical problems for the hospital. Hence, a home healthcare partner also relieves hospitals of possible legal liabilities owing to complications which may arise due to long-term hospitalisation.

More important is patient satisfaction that the hospitals gain by sending patients to their homes with the same medical environment, medical care and attention and the overwhelming joy of being with their relatives and near and dear ones. This satisfaction is not measurable in terms of money; but in terms of the joy and relief that the patients get when they are taken care of at home with no let-up in medical care and the assurance that their treating hospital and doctors are just a phone call away.
The partnership between hospitals and home healthcare providers is not just profitable for the hospital and the individual patient, but for the country at large. Through this partnership, more number of patients can be treated by hospitals as beds get freed. India needs over 6 lakh+ beds to cater to the country’s growing population. It is impossible to bridge this gap unless there are innovative methods like home healthcare and use of emerging technologies like wearables and remote monitoring. While metros and major cities have super and multi-speciality hospitals supplementing the efforts of government and medical college hospitals, the pinch is felt in tier II and III cities. One way out is for hospitals in these cities to increase their bed capacity and infrastructure. But that will involve huge capital outflows which many hospitals can ill afford. The pragmatic way out is to extend their reach without building expensive infrastructure with a home healthcare partnership.

Patients residing in a tier III city at a distance of around 200 km from a tertiary care centre often discontinue their treatment in the middle due to rising costs and inconvenience of travel. With home healthcare services, step-down care including complete ICU setup can be delivered right at their home at a reduced cost.
Along with being a step – down care support system, home healthcare care help hospitals treat lifestyle ailments like diabetes care, post-op care, obesity management and physiotherapy that need personal attention and privacy, pregnancies and post-delivery care.

While all this is in existence now, there are unchartered areas where hospitals and home healthcare would have to work in tandem. One is the rise in ailment due to the increase in geriatric population – expected to constitute 11 per cent share of population by 2025.

The second is a more worrisome gap in medicare – loneliness. Alarmed at the rise of loneliness among the aged, the UK government recently appointed a ministry for loneliness. This is because loneliness can trigger depression and aggravate existing ailments. These patients need long-term care and can only be managed at home through active support and tie-ups with hospitals. Apart from medicines, these patients need specialised individual care and attention. Treatment in such cases can be successful only when hospitals and home healthcare providers work as partners.

In short, home healthcare is a distributed hospital which build the existing capacity in patient homes to take care of infrastructural gaps in existing hospitals. And this infrastructural gap will only substantially grow in the coming years.

Already, leading home healthcare providers have successful tie-ups with leading corporate hospitals across the country. Such tie-ups also help improve patient satisfaction since personalised quality care is the key. Add to this are improved safety and comfort for the patients and faster recovery because of familiar environment and proximity to near and dear ones.

The bottom line is that hospitals and home healthcare providers should partner in delivering better medicare to the growing demand of a population who benchmark medicine with personalised service.

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