by Heidi Smith
Within the home and community care industry, the benefits of treating patients in their own homes are well-documented. Patients recover faster and better, reap the psychological benefits of being surrounded by family members and friends in a familiar setting.
Through an innovative program at Providence, a subset of emergency department patients meeting inpatient criteria and living within proximity of the hospital, can now access the same type of care in their home. Providence St. Peter is one of a few hospitals nationwide and a handful in Washington State to offer Hospital at Home. As the name implies, the program allows patients to be treated at home through a combination of telehealth, home health and hospital resources.
“Having home health, telehealth and our hospital resources working together to care for patients in their home has strengthened how these entities work together and has been fun to watch mature.” says Darin Goss, Chief Executive, Providence Swedish South Puget Sound. “Patients appropriate for this new program are identified by our clinical team and I appreciate the leaders who have helped make this a reality in South Puget Sound.”
Providence caregivers visit patients in their homes to determine the appropriate treatment and medications. “It’s an ideal solution for conditions like pneumonia which require acute medical care but do not necessarily have to be physically in the hospital, and early data shows it can decrease their length of stay.” said Todd Czartoski, MD, CE Telehealth and Chief Medical Technology Officer, Providence. “Our team has had more than 60 patients through this program, and they have high praise for it,” Dr. Czartoski added. “The cost per square foot of a hospital bed is incredibly expensive. If patients can be cared for at home, surrounded by their loved ones, that makes for a better experience. I believe in the next five to ten years, most hospitals will offer this service.” To qualify, patients must meet certain criteria. They need to have a friend or family member in place who can support their care, and to live in a home with Wi-Fi service.
Hospital at Home is just one of the positive ways Providence has adapted to changing community needs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another has been the expansion of telehealth visits accessible through the Providence app, which combines telehealth with in-person visits to address a range of conditions. Providence has caregivers across several states who can offer telehealth consultations. Recently, Goss had the chance to test the system for himself when he developed a stye in one eye.
“It was a great experience,” he says. “I used the Providence app to access the telehealth visit. Within minutes, a provider was asking me questions through a video chat and completed the exam. My provider was even out of state. She was able to confirm the diagnosis and sent my prescription to my local pharmacy, all within minutes. The funny thing for me was it was a Saturday morning and I had to run and grab a t-shirt and look more presentable thinking it might take 5-10 minutes to talk to someone – it was so fast!” laughed Goss “As we move further into the telehealth care space, this is a win for everyone. Patients want to access health and healthcare on their timeline and now we lead in offering this service.”
Community needs have changed after two years of the pandemic, and Providence is facing the same challenge as many other industries: staffing shortages. The healthcare field is contending with high levels of burnout among caregivers who have been considered essential from day one. Providence has launched several strategies to address caring for the caregivers. One of the strategies has been introducing behavioral health concierge service that provides 24/7 online access to resources. This service has been well received, and for certain situations, access to care immediately helps all involved.
“We realize the mental health component can play a big role in our staff staying with us long-term and it is important for all of us to be aware of our own mental health,” Goss notes. “We will continue to invest in our staff, recognizing that we are not immune to the Great Resignation. That’s been a challenge for us, as well as all hospitals nationwide.”
Goss believes that as the world emerges from the pandemic, the healthcare industry is on the brink of substantial innovations both structurally and technologically, and Providence will continue to adapt and evolve while leading the way. “Clearly, these three examples highlight how telehealth is changing our healthcare landscape. We appreciate the trust our community has given us, and our partnership with the Thurston County Chamber, who has helped us remain connected to the community,” he says. “Our goal is to take that trust and make sure that we deliver what our community expects from us.”
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