Home Health Barriers to Caring for Rural Patients
Home health agencies serving rural communities face unique challenges in providing accessible and impactful care to rural patients. Barriers to providing quality care across a rural area include:
- Nearly half of survey participants indicated their agency covers partial counties. Although they are licensed by Medicare to serve the whole county, they only had the resources, staff, and capacity to cover part of the county. As a result, some areas have gaps in home health coverage with rural Medicare beneficiaries whom might not have any access to home health care.
- Nearly all shared that bad weather and poor road conditions increased the already long time staff spent traveling between home visits.
- Over half reported difficulties staffing at least one of the therapy services. As a result, administrators were not always able to accept referrals because there was not a therapist readily available to provide care. Some agencies experienced difficulties in hiring therapists because the agency’s small caseloads would inhibit full-time employment. Over half of the rural home health agencies shared that the demand for therapy services resulted in the agencies’ usage of contracted staff from local hospitals or other organizations. Contracted staff helps agencies by providing back-up during high census periods. However, contracted staff may have limited availability due to their current case loads.
How Virtual Care Supports Rural Patients
Providers in rural areas are using technological solutions to reduce in-person visits and better manage travel costs and staff productivity. With Synzi, home health agencies can use HIPAA-compliant virtual care for rural home health patients. Virtual visits and messaging is augmenting and accelerating their current methods of delivering follow-up care to rural populations.
Designed to run on commodity devices and connections, Synzi’s virtual care platform enables providers to provide care across any cellular, limited broadband, or Wi-Fi connection. This is critical for rural patients who may have limited connectivity and thus experience geographic isolation when trying to access timely, quality care.
Given the shortages of various specialists (such as wound care nurses) in rural communities, Synzi’s platform is also helping home health agencies better serve the needs of patients without needing to always spend hours behind the wheel:
- Staff can see at least three patients virtually in the average time it takes to drive to/from a patient’s house and conduct one in-person visit.
- Synzi’s platform also has messaging functionality which administrators can use to send patients a cadence of scheduled communications via email or text. Messaging can be customized to the patient’s condition and/or risk for readmission.
- Patients can use their smartphone, tablet or computer to receive messages and participate in video-based virtual visits.
The rural population has critical gaps in both access and quality. Synzi’s technology can help address the gap in care and help agencies better care for the vast populations and geographies they support.