How virtual health care can help during coronavirus outbreak

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (March 16, 2020)--With the new reality of the COVID-19 outbreak, there is a lot of focus on telehealth and on communicating remotely with patients and staff. HomeCare asked the CEO of the virtual care company Synzi, Lee Horner, a few questions about what his company and its clients are doing in response and what might come down the road in terms of remote Homecare.

HomeCare: What is Synzi doing in response to the outbreak? 
Given the coronavirus outbreak, each day raises more questions and uncertainty for patients as well as the home health and home care agencies who provide them with essential care. As agencies need to quickly communicate information about COVID-19 to their patients, Synzi is supporting agencies with our offer of a free one-time broadcast message. With this messaging functionality, Synzi will send out information to an agency’s patients in a matter of seconds – saving agencies’ valuable hours which would typically be spent calling every single patient proactively or responding to individual patients’ questions and calls about the coronavirus. Our platform also helps agencies report back to the state that their patients were contacted and received an emergency-related communication.

Synzi is also helping agencies maintain operations and conveniently continue the delivery of care.  With our virtual visit functionality, nurses are able to conduct video-based check-ins with their patients. These frequent check-ins help agencies ensure continuity of care in-between in-person visits.

HomeCare: What are you hearing are the pain points for your agency clients at this time? Is there a particular concern about staffing, for instance? Or about social isolation among patients?
Horner: Agencies are taking every precaution they can to take care of their patients and their staff. We are hearing that our agency customers are seeing an increase in denial of service. By denial of service, we mean the patient or the nurse refuse to meet the patient in-person, whether at the home or at the location of care, because they are worried about the spread and transmission. Patients are increasingly hesitant to let nurses into their homes for in-person visits. And, nurses are opting to conduct more virtual visits instead of in-person visits at this time

As a result, home health clinicians and patients are requesting to participate in virtual visits in order to minimize in-person contact. Concurrently, many home health agencies are currently dealing with a staffing shortage.

Agencies are using our virtual visit functionality to maintain operations and optimize the productivity of their staff.  Implementing virtual care is helping organizations better utilize their current staff while being able to provide better–meaning, more timely and higher quality–care to their patients. With our virtual care communication platform, all stakeholders stay in better and more frequent communication during this anxious time and throughout the episode of care. Instead of spending most of the day behind the wheel (and potentially being denied entry to a patient’s home upon arrival), nurses are converting their “drive time” into more “patient time.”    

HomeCare: There is a push to expand telehealth and other remote communication in health care in the midst of this. You are probably watching this very closely. Do you think something positive could emerge from this situation on that front?
Horner: The CDC recommends leveraging telehealth to help mitigate the impact and spread of COVID-19. We are pleased to see organizations such as NAHC and AAHomecare reach out to CMS and request that home health care agencies receive more support to handle the outbreak of the coronavirus, maintain operations, and continue the delivery of care. This will hopefully open up different reimbursement models for the use of virtual care and telehealth by post-acute care organziations.

HomeCare: Have you heard of any creative ways agencies are using remote messaging in this time?
Horner: Our customer agencies are saving valuable time by using Synzi to broadcast messages to their patients with reminders about precautionary measures to protect themselves. For example, Linda Murphy, COO of Concierge HomeCare, is sending messages with links to videos from WHO. Concierge is also pushing weekly messages to their patients with valuable education and timely updates about COVID-19. In general, our home health and home care agencies recognize they are in a unique position to provide critical information to their patients–and they appreciate being able to use Synzi’s messaging functionality to convey this info in a convenient and compassionate way.