Pandemic elevates potential of IT in HME

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The “social distancing” practice brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic presents HME providers with an opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and demonstrate how information technology can play a huge role in remote patient care. By strategically using their capabilities for telehealth, remote monitoring and coordinating with other professionals in the health care continuum, HME providers can assert themselves as valid partners in patient care, IT specialists say.

“The HME industry has always been trying to prove the value of home health and [seeks] respectability from physicians, pharmacists and other medical professionals,” said Lisa Anderson, communications manager for Davison, Mich.-based Universal Software Solutions. “Now is our time to shine and finally get a seat at the health care table and be a participating member.”

Mark Ludwig, president and CEO of Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Bonafide Medical Group, says the pandemic has altered healthcare conventions and that every norm and best practice is being re-evaluated by providers across the health care spectrum.

“How the U.S. delivers post-acute care through technology and, in particular, telehealth, is central to what will become a new paradigm,” Ludwig said. “As challenging as COVID-19 is in the short term, we will come out of this stronger and more efficient as a health care system.”

Information technology, he said, has the capability to serve as a catalyst for further integration of the entire health care system.

“We are learning that collaboration and communication are critical in these extremely difficult times,” Ludwig said. “Simple ideas like collecting human temperature data become the foundation for extraordinarily powerful analytics that can drive critical prevention and management action around the world. Similarly, infection prevention solutions that systematically test and track bacteria and virus levels, while providing analytics in real-time across an integrated health care system must become the norm. Our standard of care must and will change and a more integrated cloud-based health care system will serve as a foundation for that change.”

Peachtree Corners, Ga.-based Brightree’s IT product line enables providers to utilize telehealth tools for remote equipment setups, patient engagement and remote monitoring, which CEO Matt Mellott says his customers are impressively demonstrating.

“The need to protect the HME’s front line staff is driving the use of these technologies, but already many HMEs are seeing the gain in efficiencies and productivity,” he said. “This includes the shortening of the time from referral to equipment setup and overall patient satisfaction from using telehealth technologies. If the industry stakeholders see no degradation in patient compliance and outcomes, then this new way of caring for the HME patient is likely here to stay, and that benefits both the patient and the provider.”

Joey Graham, executive vice president and general manager for Charlotte, N.C.-based Prochant, credits the pandemic for forcing HME providers to make the digital transformation, speeding up initiatives that were established but had limited adoption.

“Virtual setups, contactless delivery and drop-shipping product will very likely become commonplace, if not the new norm,” he said. “HME providers will go through a digital transformation themselves to accommodate current and future expectations around social distancing and infection control.”

As a business community, HME software companies are well-positioned to help providers receive referrals based on clinical telehealth encounters and appointments, while remotely monitoring patients, said Gail Turner, HME sales consultant of TIMS Software by Billings, Mont.-based Computers Unlimited. A paperless process increases patient and provider safety by reducing the amount of physical exchange at the point of delivery or for curbside pickup, she said.

Turner added that learning to shift appropriate aspects of care to a telehealth model may improve the overall quality of patient care going forward, especially for rural patients.

“Emerging telehealth and remote monitoring technology take systems closer to ‘real-time’ data collection,” she said. “Obtaining more data directly from the point of service will enable clearer sightlines for system enhancements and improvements, reducing errors and waste.”

Understanding the economic and safe distancing advantages of technology will give HME providers tremendous competitive and operational advantages, said Bruce Gehring, senior vice president of business development for Overland Park, Kan.-based Allegiance Group.

“If we can leverage technology to create operating efficiencies, we can better direct our labor resources where it can have the greatest impact, focusing on the patient,” he said. “Making the patient the priority and providing the care that is needed will deliver better outcomes for our patients and referral sources.”