2021 Home Health Telehealth & Digital Care Trends: A Q&A with Joshua Douglas, OTR/L, Spectrum Health

We recently sat down with Joshua Douglas, OTR/L, from Spectrum Health Visiting Nurse Association, Spectrum Health’s home care division, to discuss how Spectrum Health has successfully leveraged digital care and patient engagement tools to boost patient engagement and improve outcomes while preserving the safety of staff and patients amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: How are home health agencies going to use telehealth and patient engagement tools in 2021 and beyond? 

A: Home health agencies can utilize telehealth tools such as disease monitoring equipment and virtual visit options as well as interactive applications for education and home programs to meet a variety of patient needs. Home health patients are often understandably worried about community-acquired infections, and COVID-19 has increased this concern dramatically.

Virtual care options can increase agencies’ opportunities to interact and provide skilled care to patients without increasing the risk of exposure to communicable diseases. Overall, these tools have been shown to improve a patient’s ability to achieve outcomes and meet goals while remaining in the safety of their home. 

Q: Do you feel that telehealth and digital care tools have helped you prepare for the newest wave of COVID-19 cases? How do you plan to leverage these tools to address the newest wave of cases moving forward?  

A: Our agency actually invested time and resources in developing a virtual program prior to the start of the pandemic. Over the past few months, we’ve been able to refine how we document virtual interactions, how we collaborate with physicians to provide virtual interventions as part of the patient’s care plan, and how we collaborate with patients to include these interventions and improve patient participation. This has given us the flexibility to meet our systems management plan in the moment, as well as modify our practices to meet patient needs while keeping our staff and patients safe in the future.

Q: At this time, telehealth is not being directly reimbursed in home health, and virtual visits don’t count toward the LUPA threshold. How can remote care tools reduce costs and overcome the payment hurdle?

A: Remote care tools used in conjunction with appropriate in-home visits have been proven to reduce a patient’s length of stay without compromising outcomes. This allows our agency to effectively manage resources such as a clinician’s valuable time and PPE without impacting the level or quality of care provided. In situations where we may not be able to reduce the instances of LUPA per patient, we can more effectively manage cost among our entire census.



Q: How can home health agencies leverage digital care tools to attract referral sources and partners?

A: By tracking outcomes for patients receiving virtual care, home health agencies can show that virtual care not only provides safe alternatives to in-home visits, but can also improve patient participation and adherence to their care plan as well as reduce the risk of hospitalization. These benefits can also lead to decreased cost to payers, improved patient satisfaction, and improved community health.

Q: Have digital care tools had any benefits for your staff? 

A: Our use of virtual care has improved our clinicians’ ability to focus on high level therapeutic interventions with their patients. Because education and remedial training can be supported and completed efficiently through virtual platforms, providing skilled intervention using this method frees our clinicians to provide patients with new and novel treatments instead of having to spend time reviewing training from previous home visits. Clinicians have repeatedly remarked that their patients receiving virtual care in conjunction with their in-home visits have not only met, but in many cases have exceeded, their goals.

Q: Do you have an example of how telehealth or digital care tools impacted a patient at your organization? 

A: We had a patient with a chronic neurologic disorder that was on her fifth admission to home health in the last three years, so our clinician decided to take a different approach and utilize our newest virtual tool. She assigned the patient a MedBridge account and set her up with educational materials specific to her condition. The patient became emotional after her first viewing of the material and said that it presented the information in a way that she could clearly understand. She stated that in the past, other health care providers were not able to explain the chronic nature of her condition effectively, and she felt like she wasn’t getting anywhere.  

With such a strong initial buy-in, our clinician was then able to provide the patient with a home exercise program catered to her condition. With subsequent virtual visits in conjunction with her in-home visits, the patient was able to meet her goals, and at discharge she found herself in a position to effectively manage her symptoms and take steps to maintain her own health and independence.

For additional insights on how Spectrum Health is leveraging digital care throughout their health system, watch our recent webinar on digital care strategies with leaders from Kaiser Permanente, AdventHealth, and Spectrum Health here.


About Spectrum Health

Spectrum Health System, a not-for-profit, integrated health system, is committed to improving the health and wellness of our communities. We live our mission every day with 31,000 compassionate professionals, 4,600 medical staff experts, 3,300 committed volunteers, and a health plan serving more than one million members.

Our talented physicians and caregivers are privileged to offer a full continuum of care and wellness services to our communities through 14 hospitals, including Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, 150 ambulatory sites, and telehealth offerings. We pursue health care solutions for today and tomorrow that diversify our offerings.

Locally governed and based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, our health system provided $550 million in community benefit in calendar year 2019. Thanks to the generosity of our communities, we received $37 million in philanthropy to support research, academics, innovation, and clinical care. Spectrum Health has been recognized as one of the nation’s 15 Top Health Systems by Truven Health Analytics®, part of IBM Watson HealthTM.