Post-Acute Care: Another “New Normal” Resulting from the Pandemic?

19 Apr 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the importance of increased communication and transparency across the post-hospital landscape, and the critical need for more diverse care options for patients who require rehabilitation or nursing services after a surgery, stroke, accident or illness.

While the entire healthcare industry has drastically changed over the past year, one thing never will: patients and their families want to make an informed choice on the next step of their healthcare journey.

Health systems — and their case managers — want the same for their patients. But far too often, they are bogged down with paperwork, administrative tasks and slow communications — which can make finding the next clinically appropriate provider a tedious and cumbersome process.

Pivoting From Skilled Nursing Facilities to Home Healthcare

It’s no surprise that the pandemic prompted more patients to seek home healthcare. But interestingly, even prior to the COVID-19 era, we started to see a 14% increase in the number of patients making that choice. This trend kicked into overdrive in March 2020 when concerns about COVID-19 infection risk at SNFs skyrocketed and hospitals became inundated with patients.

The shift in care delivery preferences was impacted due to various factors caused by the pandemic — from fears of outbreak and families’ inability to visit a loved one to more people being in a position to act as a caregiver while working from home. While this option is cost-effective, it may not always enable the face-to-face care a patient needs for their condition. Now more than ever, families want a personal connection with a care provider they trust for their loved ones.

As we navigate to a “new normal,” many health systems and patients will continue to partake in-home healthcare over care settings such as skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). At the same time, as patients continue to be discharged from hospitals to home healthcare settings, care coordination tools have become imperative to providing patients and their families with high-quality care post-discharge.

Patients, caregivers, and providers should have a choice of well-vetted options, so all parties can ultimately choose what’s best for the patient without a time-consuming headache that prolongs length-of-stay and ultimately impacts hospital revenues, too.

The Critical Role Technology Plays in Communication and Transparency

By scaling up the use of technology to engage patients, many hospital executives are determining where technology fits into their financial recovery plans. Leveraging technology to reduce the length of stay and ensure that patients are discharged into the setting that’s best for their condition is paramount. However, the patient discharge process, historically, has been incredibly analog and prone to delay — which, in turn, directly impacts hospital capacity. It’s a critical part of a patient’s care continuum, and therefore has direct and indirect impacts on both patient outcomes and costs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant digital transformation momentum over the past year, and home healthcare is no exception. While we’ve made tremendous strides in creating solutions to care for patients remotely, providers still need better technology to get a clearer picture of all of a patient’s discharge options.

In the past, case managers at hospitals have managed that process manually, calling and writing to post-acute care providers to determine whether they accept the patient’s insurance and can admit the patient on the day they’ll be discharged. The communication and transparency that technology provides are a must-have against this backdrop.

Technology-enabled digital tools that organize and continually update this information are a critical component of ensuring a patient’s health post-discharge. An open-market approach, where post-acute care providers are part of a centralized platform for case managers to reference and plug information into, enables efficient and evidence-based hospital discharge planning.

As we look towards a new normal, we’ll expect to see a shift in the post-hospital landscape. We’ll see more patients being discharged to home healthcare environments over institutional care settings. We’ll also see increased communication and transparency between providers and case managers to meet the patient’s care preferences. What we learned this past year about the healthcare landscape could pay off for years to come, and one lesson is for certain: patients and their families want to make an informed decision on the next step of their patient care journey.