In a recent discovery by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), it has been found that while Home Health Agencies (HHAs) have benefited from telehealth flexibility, there is still significant room for improvement in terms of the services they offer and the patients they most directly serve. Due to the global pandemic, severe restrictions on in person healthcare were implemented, increasing the rate of patients that avail of remote healthcare services. This was aided by an organization known as Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), who put in place regulatory flexibility that increased the use of telehealth. Telehealth services have helped countless patients and healthcare professionals maintain sufficient access to care for the duration of the pandemic and has proved to be incredibly useful.
The OIG recently examined HHA operations, offering new information on how these facilities use telehealth and outlining the steps that must be taken moving forward. Over 3 million Medicare members received care from HHAs during the first year of the COVID-19 outbreak. A nationally representative sample of 400 HHAs, 396 of which participated in the Medicare program, were polled for this evaluation by the HHS OIG in the fall of 2021. In addition to this, 12 HHAs were interviewed about care techniques and obstacles. The organization discovered that staffing and infection control issues were the most typical barriers to care during the COVID-19 outbreak. Along with the government activities that helped these groups, it also emphasized the typical measures that many HHAs adopted to address difficulties. These mostly emphasized telehealth flexibility and paid leave options.
The OIG has made suggestions for upcoming measures, such as that CMS should examine how HHAs specifically employ telehealth, the services it offers, and the kinds of patients who profit from it the most. The agency also made notice of the requirement to assess how telehealth flexibility affects home healthcare. Finally, it was suggested that CMS collaborate with the Technical Resources, Assistance Center, and Information Exchanges of the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response to create a list of actions that HHAs should do in the event of a future public health emergency.