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Telehealth technology could transform the HME industry — if providers act quickly

The next generation of home medical equipment (HME) technology has arrived. For HME providers, this means learning how to step forward into a future that shifts healthcare into the home. This future will feature a merging of traditional HME equipment and new technology. But what's behind this change?

Overall, chronic diseases like diabetes, stroke and asthma are on the rise in the United States.1 Management of these conditions requires participation from patients that extends beyond visits to doctors or hospitals. Patients are helping to drive treatment into their homes and living more active lives, meaning they want the telehealth medical equipment and technology that support their needs.

But the benefits don't end at the patient's door. HME providers that embrace technology stand to realize multiple benefits themselves — benefits that range from improved experiences for their patients to better business results in the long term.

Technology supports the future-proof HME

Today's HME leaders are facing increasing pressure to prioritize efficiency, find competitive advantages and improve reimbursement. Embracing technology can help leaders meet these goals while aligning with broader trends in the healthcare industry.

Technology can improve safety

Take the benefits of telehealth and remote patient monitoring, for example. Research indicates that clinical outcomes of telehealth can be as good or even better than traditional, in-person care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has supported physical distancing and improved access to care.2

The benefits of remote patient monitoring have stood out during the pandemic, with industry leaders developing both RPM and telehealth solutions like smartphone-connected insulin pumps and a mobile-friendly patient portal for spinal stimulation therapy patients.3

HME technology can support patient satisfaction through telehealth

Telehealth is already well-positioned to increase patient satisfaction, suggesting that HME providers who find alignment between telehealth and HME offerings can see similar results.

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly three out of four patients had their first telemedicine visit. According to a Wakefield Research survey of 1,000 patients, over 75% of those patients were very or completely satisfied with their virtual care experiences.4

HME providers should incorporate these trends into their long-term planning, since telehealth use is likely here to stay — a June 2020 survey from revealed that 83% of respondents planned on using telehealth services even after the pandemic.5 For example, providers can consider telemedicine-supported vent check-ins with patients. These traditionally in-person check-ins can be replaced with remote visits, protecting the patient and giving them more flexibility in how their visits are conducted.

Provide care, perform exams and stay connected to your patients when you can't be face-to-face, with telehealth and virtual care

The tech-forward HME can help reduce costs

A shift toward the home via telemedicine means an increase in demand for medical supplies, with many healthcare stakeholders looking for ways to partner with HME providers. Payors, including government agencies and private payors, collect patient data to improve operations, reduce errors and drive better decisions. HME businesses that can collect and share data are better positioned to find their ideal partnerships.

Tips for stepping into a tech-enabled HME future

HME leaders interested in adopting new technologies to improve their organizations should consider multiple factors. To support providers, we've spoken with Kris Srinivasan, senior manager of payor strategy - HME, at McKesson Medical-Surgical and Rebecca Russell, director of sales and program management, at Remetric for insights.

1 | Acknowledge the risk of lagging behind

HME providers face a pressing risk of lagging behind, especially as COVID-19 has placed increased demand on all stakeholders in the HME sphere.

Rebecca: Not moving forward in light of COVID-19 is a major risk. Prior to the pandemic, HME businesses were taking incremental steps, but now, many are transitioning into virtual healthcare.

Kris: HME providers that aren't embracing technology may run the risk of going out of business in the next five years, or are on track to being acquired by another organization. Participants along the healthcare continuum now rely on efficiency, alternative care models and moving care into the home. HMEs may be best positioned if they adopt advanced technology.

2 | Focus on low-hanging fruit

HME businesses likely face "easy" opportunities to move forward into technology, such as a competition-focused marketing play or focusing on patient adoption of existing products.

Rebecca: HMEs are in a position similar to home health agencies in that reimbursement is challenging. Many home health agencies have funded their tech initiatives out-of-pocket for years to reduce readmissions, improve outcomes and increase patient satisfaction and star ratings.

As the industry moves toward value-based care, the opportunity to stand out by offering technology a competitor doesn't is an increasingly attractive trait, especially as HME providers integrate more deeply into healthcare in the home. A provider sitting with a patient to explain how to put a blood pressure cuff on their arm can be replaced with a telehealth visit or video demonstration.

Kris: HMEs should focus on ROI, looking to increase referral sources and provide better experiences for their patients. They'll find more opportunities in collecting and processing data to identify today's gaps in care. HME providers can enable this by supporting patient adoption of devices and digital solutions. For example, McKesson offers McKesson VerbalCare®, which is a mobile app that helps support and automate patient/provider communications.

Through VerbalCare, providers can respond quickly to real-time, two-way communication through the portal to meet patient needs while also saving time and money by reducing staff time with multiple calls. It's a win-win scenario for patients and providers.

Connect to patients wherever they are & help guide them on the path to better health with McKesson VerbalCare®.

3 | Rethink your business development

Technology is about connection and any initiative you choose will likely benefit from working with a partner to get the most out of your decision.

Kris: HME companies will benefit from a clear strategic vision. For most, partnerships will be critical as they scale their efforts, especially improving access to solutions that might not align with their current business model. Partnerships can open opportunities to connect with larger regional and national providers who do have the infrastructure they need. This is a good way to reduce risk instead of making a large capital investment as a launching point.

4 | Identify your optimal starting point

Everyone's journey into HME technology will look different. Your best starting point might be using technology to support revenue growth, or it might be focusing on data analytics that demonstrates better outcomes you can provide. It could be something completely different but should align with your business needs today.

Rebecca: Many organizations are interested in technology like telehealth and RPM, but many don't understand it. They might even be a little embarrassed about that lack of knowledge. HME providers should know that these aren't difficult programs to launch. They simply have to look for what's available as a first step. For most, that's going to be enrolling just a few patients. Once they get over that hump, things are smoother.

Kris: HME organizations might be eager to jump on the bandwagon, but they need to understand why it can help their business. Are they trying to get better outcomes for their patients? Better reimbursement? Are their plans sustainable? Are they seeking lower cost to serve models by introducing technology versus patient visits? Answering strategic questions like these can help drive the program they want to build.

5 | Address your people concerns

Technology doesn't stand alone and ultimately depends on your people. You may need to consider a fresh hiring strategy or even a new partnership to address the people question.

Rebecca: Organizations will be in a better position if they start small — bringing on one full-time person to introduce a smaller number of patients. They can start by excluding patients who don't qualify, aren't interested or aren't able to participate physically or cognitively. Leaders can then move on to patients who have the biggest need, growing from there to improve their chances of compliance.

This is also where strong partnerships come in. At Remetric, we handle many things for HME providers. We capture the data and collect it, so it's easy for providers to analyze and run reports on their patient population. We even handle patient outreach, which means no need to hire staff to monitor. Here, they might consider bringing in the appropriate medical professional to manage the relationship.

Kris: The people question ties back to reimbursement.

If the reimbursement isn't there, it's hard to set up resources and people needed to monitor the data and make sure it's not getting lost. For example, today, primary care physicians get reimbursed for reviewing home health data, but home health and HME companies don't.

As the pandemic plays out and technology continues to evolve, HME leaders should also keep in mind that one of the fastest-growing elements of reimbursement is patient pay.

While past technology initiatives may have lacked funding sources, steps into technology today may mean a future of increased reimbursement that may support better patient outcomes, new opportunities and healthier business results.

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