Health & Spirit

From the ER to inpatient care — at home

Michelle Andrews, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Dr. Bruce Leff began exploring the hospital-at-home concept more than 20 years ago, conducting early studies at Veterans Affairs medical centers and Medicare Advantage plans that found fewer patient complications, better outcomes and lower costs in home-care patients.

Caregivers reported less stress, Leff's research found. For caregivers, traveling to an unfamiliar hospital, finding and paying for parking and trying to time bedside meetings with clinical staff, all the while worried about a loved one's health, is wearing, experts note.

Hospitals, accustomed to the traditional "heads-and-beds" model that emphasizes filling hospital beds in a brick-and-mortar facility have been slow to embrace change, however.

There are practical hurdles, too.

"It's still easier to get Chinese food delivered in New York City than to get oxygen delivered at home," said Leff, a professor of medicine and director of Johns Hopkins Medical School's Center for Transformative Geriatric Research.

Since Mount Sinai's seven-hospital system launched its Hospital-at-Home program in New York City in 2014, more than 700 patients have chosen home over hospital care. Patients can be referred to the program from selected emergency departments as well as some Mount Sinai primary care practices and urgent care centers. And they have fared well on a number of measures.

The average length of stay for acute care was 5.3 days in the hospital versus 3.1 days of treatment for home-care patients, while 30-day readmission rates for home-based patients were about half of those in the hospital: 7.8 percent versus 16.3 percent for the two-year period ending December 2016.

Begun with a three-year, $9.6 million grant from the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation in 2014, Mount Sinai's program initially focused on Medicare patients with six conditions, including congestive heart failure, pneumonia and diabetes. Since then, the program has expanded to include dozens of conditions, including asthma, high blood pressure and serious infections like cellulitis, and is now available to some privately insured and Medicaid patients.

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The health system has also partnered with Contessa Health, a company with expertise in home care, to negotiate contracts with insurers to pay for hospital-at-home services.

Among other things, insurers are worried about the slippery slope of what it means to be hospitalized, said Dr. Linda DeCherrie, clinical director of the mobile acute care team at Mount Sinai Health System.

"(Insurers) don't want to be paying for an admission if this patient really wouldn't have been hospitalized in the first place," DeCherrie said.

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