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Analysis

Home-Based Medical Care in High Demand During Coronavirus Pandemic

By Christopher Cheney  
   July 29, 2020

Particularly for patients who are older and frail, home-based medical care is a viable alternative to urgent care centers and emergency rooms.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased demand for home-based medical care, according to the chief medical officer of Landmark Health.

During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, patients have been reluctant to visit healthcare facilities due to concerns over coronavirus infection. In April, a Medical Group Management Association survey found that physician practices had experienced a 60% average decrease in patient volume.

Huntington Beach, California–based Landmark Health specializes in providing home-based medical care such as medical interventions and behavioral healthcare to older patients with multiple chronic conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic has been driving demand for this type of in-home care, says Michael Le, MD, Landmark's chief medical officer.

"There has been a dramatic increase in the interest for our services—about a 33% increase in demand for our type of in-home services since the pandemic began. We think that is only going to grow as the year continues, especially as we get back into the flu season in the fall," he says.

The increased demand for in-home services has boosted Landmark's finances, Le says. "From a financial standpoint, the pandemic has grown revenue. We forecast revenue will increase about 230% for this year."

Landmark focuses on risk-based and value-based contracts, mainly with Medicare Advantage health plans. The organization employs about 450 healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dietitians, and social workers. Landmark operates in 14 states, including 46 metropolitan service areas.

Landmark's mobile care model

The average age of a Landmark patient is 79, and the average patient has eight chronic conditions, Le says.

"For the frail population, they need someone laying hands on them and looking around at the home environment, especially in this time when family members are afraid of visiting and getting their loved ones sick with the coronavirus. Our patients are even more isolated and lonely than they were before the pandemic, and having someone come to examine them and bring treatment to them helps keep them out of emergency rooms, urgent care centers, or hospitals that are full of COVID-19 patients."

Landmark's mobile geriatric care model has four primary elements, he says.

1. "Complexivist" care features a multidisciplinary team. "Complexivist care includes our doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, psychiatrists, pharmacists, dietitians, and social workers. It is a full care team wrapped around the patient. It takes a village to manage the frailties of these patients," Le says.

Complexivist care is provided 24/7 in the patient's home and caregivers spend a significant amount of time with patients, he says. "As opposed to a 10- or 15-minute office visit, our initial visits are an hour long and our follow-up visits are 50 minutes long."

2. Urgent care services are provided to patients.

"We do not just lay hands on the patient and take vital signs. If we find a health problem, we can make an intervention immediately—we are like a global urgent care or emergency room. We can draw blood and check labs. We can administer medications such as Lasix, IV antibiotics, and steroids to treat and stabilize patients. We can insert catheters, perform suturing, and check X-rays or ultrasound imaging," Le says.

3. Behavioral health services are provided to patients because about 50% of Landmark's patients have behavioral health comorbidities that negatively impact their quality of life and outcomes. "We have our own behavioral health team to help address behavioral health needs and social determinants of health," he says.

4. Palliative care and advanced care planning are provided to patients because they are statistically approaching their last years of life, Le says.

"We train our providers to have end-of-life conversations with patients. As a former hospitalist, I can say there is no worse place to have those kinds of conversations than in an emergency room or an ICU. There is no better place to have those kinds of conversations than in a patient's living room while they are surrounded by their family. That way, the whole family can have discussions about goals and values."

Geared for the pandemic

Landmark's in-home service model is well-suited to rising to coronavirus pandemic challenges, Le says.

"Whether it is a direct impact from the pandemic or an inability to get out and get medications, we have seen worsening behavioral health severity among patients. Our behavioral health team—our psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, and social workers—has seen about a 180% increase in visits during the pandemic."

Landmark caregivers are serving as a "pre-frontline" during the pandemic, he says.

"We are able to go into homes and treat our patients so they do not have to go into a hospital and be around symptomatic patients who could be spreading the coronavirus. We can alleviate some of the frontline stress in the emergency rooms, so they are not overwhelmed."

Treating frail, elderly patients in their homes limits their exposure to possible infection with coronavirus, Le says.

"Many of our patients have diabetes, heart failure, and cancer, which puts them at higher risk if they contract COVID-19 at a healthcare facility. If they catch coronavirus, these patients will likely have a bad outcome. Our patients have another option to receive care other than just dialing 911 and being transported to an emergency room."

Bright future

Landmark focuses on the sickest and frailest patients now, but healthcare is moving in the direction of the home, he says. "Whether it is for convenience, safety, or good outcomes, more and more healthcare will be shifting toward the home. We believe there is a gap in this area."

As a care delivery method, home-based medical care is likely to follow a similar trajectory as telemedicine, Le says. "Just like telemedicine has surged and will be part of the healthcare landscape for years to come, the shift to more home-based medical care has been accelerated and will continue to grow long after the pandemic."

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Landmark Health has experienced a 33% increase in demand for its home-based medical care since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The increased demand for Landmark's in-home services is boosting revenue, with the organization projecting revenue will increase about 230% this year.

Landmark features a mobile geriatric care model that includes "complexivist" care, behavioral health services, and palliative care and advanced care planning.


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