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How Home Healthcare Is Filling the Crucial Healthcare Gap In India During the Pandemic? Home Healthcare has been a boon for patients as well as for hospitals

By Vaibhav Bhosale

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Sometimes it takes a crisis to change our ways of working fundamentally. We saw how demonetization led to increased digital payments. Similarly, COVID-19 and the lockdowns that followed have created some earth-shattering changes in our landscape. The paradigm shift in the way we work, the digitization of our processes - both of organizations and individuals, could not have happened at the current rate if not for the pandemic. The wider acceptance of home healthcare is also one of the definitive changes we have seen in the pandemic world. All these changes are surely here to stay.

Home healthcare: The evolution so far

Home is where the heart is. Most of us are deeply attached to our homes and the familiar setting. Being cared for in the company of family members aids the healing process better than being in an unknown environment. Especially for elders, home setting gives the independence they need to the degree afforded by their condition.

A childhood memory of a family doctor coming home to treat one of the family members is the quintessential home healthcare that many of us associate with. For many, this perception has remained the same. Today's home healthcare has evolved significantly and caters to an array of patient needs. From taking lab samples at home to providing complex clinical management of patients through intensive care at home set-up leveraging technology and skills of multidisciplinary teams, home healthcare has come a long way. Physiotherapy, providing nursing at home (both visit-based nursing and long-term nursing), post operative care for patients who need help with activities of daily living like walking, bathing, toileting, caregiving for elder members of the family are some of the services that are now easily available at home.

COVID-19 and home healthcare

The pandemic has made us realize that many healthcare issues can be addressed at home through the help of trained clinicians. With hospitals already overburdened, home healthcare can take care of a large number of common medical issues that can be treated at home with experienced healthcare professionals. With limited movement allowed due to lockdowns, many clinical procedures like injection administration, physiotherapy and nursing care can be managed at home through protocol driven care.

For Covid-19 patients, home quarantine programs by organized home healthcare players have helped in creating effective stay at home recovery plans for patients with mild symptoms. Anyone who has been advised home quarantine due to exposure risk or travel or has been detected with COVID-19 can receive complete clinical monitoring and support while at home.

Win-win for hospitals and patients

While hospitals play an important role in a patient's recovery, it has its limitations. A longer stay at the hospital can lead to hospital acquired infections. Sometimes, a hospital is not the best place for one's recovery after making progress up to a point. The remaining recovery is best done at home. Many were forced to realize this with the current bed crisis at hospitals across the country. Hospitals who traditionally saw home care as adversaries, now see them as partners. Though early, insurance has started collaborating with organized home healthcare players to provide a few services at home. These are good signs of a maturing ecosystem.

The rise of teleconsultation

Till March 2020, the status of doctor teleconsultation was nebulous. Doctors and medical councils were circumspect of engaging in telemedicine. The telemedicine guidelines released in March 2020 in the wake of COVID-19 have paved the way for scalable healthcare access at home for a larger patient population. Millions of people have taken doctor teleconsultations and tens of thousands have used teleconsultations-based home quarantine programs to recover safely at home from COVID-19. Indian healthcare, especially the healthcare beyond metro cities, had traditionally faced affordability and access problems. With technology and telemedicine, these two important problems are likely to be solved.

The role and impact of organized home healthcare players

While the need for home healthcare is well understood, the outcomes it needs to deliver is far less understood. The industry is highly fragmented with only a handful of organized players. The unorganized players typically cut corners from ethical and clinical angles to deliver a low cost and often lower quality service. But there are a few organized home health players who are leading the charge to provide personalized and quality care in the comfort of patients' homes. Quality Recruitment (zero compromise on qualification, experience, skills set, background verification, health status of the staff), SOPs (Standard Operating Protocols), rigorous training, clinical assessments, documentation in EMR (Electronic Medical Records), work process in accordance to the care and treatment plan, supervisory re-assessments, feedback from the customers and quality audits to improve continuously – are some of the ways to make home healthcare deliver quality outcomes to its customers in a safe, compliant and reliable manner.

When such an approach is coupled with deep engagement with hospitals and treating doctors in creating a care plan for the patient and updates going back to them at a regular frequency – one can really harness the potential of home healthcare delivery systems. In terms of cost, home care is typically 30%-70% less-expensive than the hospital-based care. Overall, an organized home care model offers quality, convenience and cost effectiveness.

With the world continuing to endure the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, the demand for home healthcare has been on an evident rise. To cater to this increasing demand, organized home healthcare players have recalibrated their offerings and also created all-new products to serve the current patient needs. New initiatives are being consistently rolled out with well-designed plans and enhanced safety protocols.

COVID-19 has indeed been an inflection point for global healthcare. It has prompted people and governments to take health seriously. And like many tectonic changes that have happened due to COVID-19, the home healthcare industry has been a deserved beneficiary! Home Healthcare's time has well and truly come.

Vaibhav Bhosale

COO, Nightingales Home Health Services

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