Has the pandemic permanently changed the post-acute care landscape?

Key insights from top health system executives on the long-lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the post-acute landscape.

Russ Graney

CEO & Founder, Aidin

It’s no question that the pandemic has created a lasting impact on the healthcare system. New data tells us that even if everything goes “back to normal” this year, 40% of hospitals will still be operating in the red. The post-acute care ecosystem — and specifically, the amount of time a patient spends in the hospital (their “length of stay” or “LOS” as we call it) — plays a major role in this equation. Technology, in turn, plays an equally major role in enabling communication and transparency around this massive ecosystem — and it will continue to grow in importance in the year ahead.

Aidin recently hosted a virtual event featuring six healthcare industry leaders who shared their thoughts on how health systems and providers are innovating to navigate a changing — and incredibly dynamic — landscape. The panel featured:

  • Paul Arias, assistant vice president, Loma Linda University
  • Stephen Blau, senior director, care management and transitional care shared services at Luminus Health
  • Tara Horr, MD, outpatient clinical service chief, division of geriatric medicine at Richland Place, supervising physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
  • Leena Patel, director of clinical coordination, AccentCare — UCLA Health
  • Jessica Tonnesen, regional director of business development, Laurels Health Care
  • Kirk Watson, JD, vice president, business development at Barlow Respiratory Hospital

Many hospital executives are determining where technology fits into their financial recovery plans. Leveraging technology to reduce LOS 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.

Surprisingly, we’ve seen a dramatic decline (18.5%) in the number of patients who are placed with a skilled nursing facility (SNF) from 2019 to 2020 — before the pandemic even started. Instead, many of those patients and their families are opting to be cared for in a home setting. While this option is cost-effective, it may not always enable the face-to-face care a patient needs for their condition. As Jessica from the Laurels Health Care pointed out — families want a personal connection with a care provider for their loved ones.

This trend kicked into overdrive in March 2020 when concerns about COVID-19 infection risk at SNF’s rose and hospitals became overwhelmed with patients. So, the next question is — will the trends in post-acute placements go back to pre-COVID-19 trajectories? According to 62% of the participants in our event, the answer is no.

We’ve seen digital transformation in healthcare skyrocket over the past year, and home healthcare is no exception. As Steve mentioned, remote patient monitoring has truly advanced to the point where care providers are able to make virtual “rounds” to patients and closely monitor their vital signs with the tap of a screen.

But 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. Interestingly, every single one of the panelists mentioned that the communication and transparency that technology provides is 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.

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.

It’s unclear whether the rate of discharge to a home healthcare setting will decline as vaccination rates increase, but one thing is certain: technology that enables providers and case managers to efficiently manage post-acute care transitions is here to stay.