With a new administration in the White House eyeing increased funding for home-based care in the coming years, the sector will face necessary change.
The home healthcare sector has come under increased scrutiny with renewed priorities from the U.S. government, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 1 in 5 Americans served as a caregiver for an adult or child with health or functional needs last year, according to estimates from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. And with the U.S. aging population projected to expand significantly in 2030 — the year the youngest baby boomers reach age 65 — improved long-term-care options are a pressing issue.
Home healthcare is one solution that has gotten a recent boost under President Joe Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan, which aims to increase funding for home- and community-based services over eight years. Such funding could help with the recruitment and retention of home healthcare workers.
Here’s what the home healthcare scene looks like this year and beyond, with a spotlight on continued digital transformation and the impact of mergers and acquisitions.
Transformational Shifts Among Home Healthcare
A 2018 AARP survey found that 76 percent of adults ages 50 and older prefer to remain in their current residence. And with nursing homes and long-term-care centers hard hit during the pandemic, the importance of other care options, such as home healthcare, has increased.
Home healthcare has, for a long time, been paper-based, and many companies are still figuring out what digital transformation will look like for them. Companies are looking at ways they can use technology to improve efficiency, facilitate clinical and caregiver workflows, provide a better patient experience and potentially take advantage of reimbursement from the federal government.
The pandemic has made clear the need to digitize, especially with telemedicine options. Modern telemedicine can now be a central part of an organization’s strategy for patient care, rather than an auxiliary, nice-to-have function.
The wider implementation of telemedicine has also put a focus on the importance of investing in a strong technological infrastructure. An effective telemedicine strategy needs a strong digital foundation that is able to integrate with existing systems and provide more efficient service.
Improvements in home healthcare IT can support caregivers as well. Digitization can help caregivers focus on patients rather than spending time on data entry and sifting through stacks of papers.
Broadband Access Is a Key Consideration in Home Healthcare
For people choosing to stay at home to receive care, home healthcare companies should be flexible and adapt to the needs of their customers, gauging whether technological concerns can be met. Wireless infrastructure, tech literacy and cybersecurity are all important, connected aspects that need to be addressed for home healthcare companies on behalf of their patients.
Nearly 22 million older adults in the U.S. do not have access to wired broadband at home, which represents 42 percent of the country’s over-65 population, according to a recent report from the Humana Foundation and Older Adults Technology Services. That’s something that home healthcare providers must keep in mind as part of their onboarding process.
Companies also need to make sure the user experience is resilient; for instance, if connectivity is bad or something happens to a device, they need to be able to recover.
What’s on the Horizon for Home Healthcare?
Home-based care services, mirroring other sectors in the healthcare space, will also continue to see the impacts from more mergers and acquisitions, especially driven by the pandemic.
It’s a question, still, who will lead the home healthcare space, whether individual companies or hospital systems. Recent movement includes insurer Humana’s plans to buy out its remaining stake in home care services company Kindred at Home in a deal valued at $5.7 billion. Also, Mayo Clinic and Kaiser Permanente announced a $100 million investment into Medically Home earlier this month.
As mergers and acquisitions influence the space, home healthcare companies will need to integrate and keep an eye how these deals impact customers and frontline caregivers.
Telemedicine will continue to see investments, with an eye to making programs compatible with any future applications that may emerge.
There will also be investments in technologies such as virtual reality that will impact the recruitment and training of caregivers. For example, Embodied Labs can provide VR training for staff who treat patients with a variety of conditions, including macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Data management will also see more investments. And, as personal health data becomes increasingly available to patients, there will also be investments in how patients can access that data.