As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 crisis together, one of the greatest concerns is overwhelming our healthcare system -- and that's where telemedicine and at-home healthcare come in.
Doctors said hospitals and emergency rooms need as much pressure taken off of them as possible so that they can focus on severe and critical COVID-19 patients.
We're noticing that the healthcare industry is really banding together to answer the call especially with telemedicine and home healthcare companies. To learn more about how these solutions are taking shape, we spoke with the Stephan Rodgers, CEO of Dallas-based AccentHealth.
AccentCare specializes in hospice and elderly in-home care for chronic conditions, including those who were recently discharged from the hospital and need continued care at home. With a crisis like this, they're hoping to bring what they've already done for years to a larger scale.
“As providers and caregivers, what’s most heartening about this is that nobody’s walking away,” said Rodgers. "I would say that what's great to see is that all of our staff are stepping up and I’ve seen it not only within our own business but across the industry. People really rising to the call of what we all need to be doing in this time and taking care of the patients."
He said the company started emergency planning for COVID-19 six weeks ago. They stocked up on supplies to last three months or more, shored up more supplies from industrial and waste management companies, and launched stringent training for the thousands of caregivers in their system.
“Our job is to essentially throw out the rule book in situations like this and re-define the businesses that were in. I know that I have more than 20,000 dedicated care providers in my system, and it’s my job to effectively deploy them,” he said.
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Right now, they're actively caring for COVID-19 patients in their own homes.
“What we are tending to do with those COVID-19 patients that are on service is we’ve limited this staff that are actually going out to them. So it’s a dedicated team of people to the COVID-19 patients in and of themselves. We make sure that they have additional training as well as equipment as they are going out there," said Rodgers.
AccentCare is also requiring that all caregivers take their temperature daily and have developed a protocol for personnel to check in with patients over the phone prior to a visit to make sure they are not experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19.
"If the patient does exhibit those symptoms, all of the nurses are carrying emergency protective equipment, gowns, shoe covers, gloves, masks and goggles," said Rodgers. "And they are able to go into the home fully protected to care for that potential COVID-19 patient. Protected so that they don’t become carriers of the virus."
They are also still caring for vulnerable, elderly patients with chronic conditions – those who still need help but cannot risk being exposed to the virus outside their home. They already have technology that allows caregivers to get real time info from patients such as heart rate, pulse, and blood pressure without having to walk into the home.
"The average age of our patients is 78 -- exactly the ones doctors say we need to watch out for in this crisis," said Rodgers.
Here's another interesting aspect of the solutions and ideas that are starting to take shape across the country: Rodgers said they're ready to send care for critical COVID-19 patients should our local hospitals become overwhelmed and there's no room and no where else for people to go.
“We are here to work with our physician partners, our health system partners as they have needs. They’re going to need to free up capacity, I think we’ve all seen the statistics. Where essentially both the inpatient and ICUs are going to become overloaded,” said Rodgers. “And we’re here to both take care of the patients that don’t need to go into the hospital, that don’t have COVID-19 or who may have been in the hospital in the past -- but we can take care of them in the home, as well as some of these COVID-19 patients that are being discharged.”
Rodgers said they are also expanding on telemedicine and wants to have 30% of their 25,000 home health patients turn to telehealth. Only about 1,500 use the service which is why the company has invested in technology and other staff within the company to help facilitate virtual visits between local doctors and their own patients.
“If we kind of get focused together over the next 60 days or 90 days, maybe we will begin to be on the other side of this and at that point, I don’t think it will ever be business as usual again," said Rodgers. "I think there will be a lot of learning that we will get out of this -- from the way we use telemedicine to the way caregivers are able to move across state lines.”
AccentCare only works with patients under physician orders and partnerships with local hospitals but we now know that these types of solutions are being planned out in our community.
“It’s really just a group of caring individuals that are focused on a mission of taking care of these populations out there. And when you get people and you give these caregivers a mission like that, they will run at it for you because this is what they were called to do," said Rodgers.