More people are receiving at-home medical care during the pandemic to avoid getting sick with COVID-19, and it could set home-health programs up for rapid growth

at home hospital
Nurse practitioner Sadie Paez listens to the heart of William Merry, who is recovering from pneumonia at his home, Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Ipswich, Mass.
  • "Hospital at home" programs are skyrocketing as more patients feel safer receiving medical treatment at home rather than in at a hospital or doctor's office, the Associated Press reported.

  • Patients who are acutely ill with conditions such as heart conditions, diabetes, or even COVID-19 may use these programs to be treated at home.

  • Portable medical equipment has made the practice more practical.

  • In countries that regularly use these programs, treatment is cheaper and more successful for patients, The Common Wealth Fund found.

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As many across the country worry about the risk of contracting COVID-19 in a healthcare setting, they're opting to receive medical treatment at home, the Associated Press reported.

Patients who are acutely ill with heart conditions, diabetes, or even mild cases of COVID-19 may use these at-home services to receive care instead of going to a hospital.

Thanks to modern technology and portable medical equipment, the programs have become more accessible.

The Common Wealth Fund reported that the practice, while not as common in the US as it is in other countries, can cut costs by 30% and can be safer for at-risk patients.

"Hospital at home programs that enable patients to receive hospital-level care in the comfort of their homes have flourished in countries with single-payer health systems, but their use in the U.S. has been limited—despite compelling evidence that well-monitored, at-home treatment can be safer, cheaper, and more effective than traditional hospital care, especially for patients who are vulnerable to hospital-acquired infections and other complications of inpatient care," the report said.

According to the AP, patients who opt for at-home care are linked to video command centers and monitoring devices that can forward information about their vital signs, and provide access to medical professionals.

"I would recommend it in a heartbeat for anybody to be able to stay at home," William Merry, who received care for pneumonia in July at his Ipswich, Massachusetts, home told the AP. "There was never any problem. Never."

The AP reported that while it's unclear how many of these at-home health programs exist in the US, many hospitals that provide their service expanded them during the pandemic to be able to meet demands as coronavirus patients filled hospitals.

Additionally, independent medical companies that provide similar services have since expanded to provide more at-home care. For example, DispatchHealth, which previously focused on sending paramedics to homes to run diagnostic tests or provide medicine to prevent emergency room visits now says it has over 200 contracts with insurers to treat seriously ill patients at home.

However, while the industry is growing amidst the pandemic, its survival depends on whether insurers, both private and public continue to fund it.

"I think most hospitals will go back to normal," Bruce Leff, a geriatrics professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a home hospital pioneer told the AP on what would happen if the practice isn't covered.

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