Hospices are increasingly leveraging technology and pharmaceutical partnerships to better address the needs of patients and families and improve financial and operational efficiencies.
Hospices have leaned heavily on technology during the pandemic, turning to telehealth to remain connected to patients and their families. Hospices have also increasingly leveraged technology to build operational efficiencies during widespread workforce shortages and growing demand for care.
Hospices have also forged partnerships with pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to maintain sufficient supplies of medication and manage costs. Pharmaceuticals are often among hospices’ largest expenses.
“I think that adding those [technology] pieces in as an adjunct — they’ll never replace our people — but adding them in as an adjunct really helps the comfort for the patient and the family to know that they can push a button and get hold of my nurse,” Jet Health CEO Stacie Bratcher told Hospice News at the Home Care 100 conference. “But also for us to be able to monitor their blood pressure and vital signs are remotely and to have a good idea of any changes. It gives the patients and their family a lot of comfort.”
A range of technologies are becoming more integrated into hospice operations and care delivery. Systems like artificial intelligence (AI), predictive analytics and machine learning, for example, have helped providers identify eligible patients sooner in their disease processes.
Companies have leveraged technology to innovate their care models. Examples include Illinois-based Transitions Care, which implemented a new remote patient monitoring program to facilitate fast responses to patient needs and create efficiencies that reduce burden on staff.
Last year also brought the partnership of California-based Snowline Hospice with tech company CareFlash LLC, to offer families access to online “care communities” that include communication features, collaboration calendars, photo-sharing capabilities, 3-D medical animations, community blogs and voice-driven storytelling tools.
When technology firms, pharmacy managers and hospice providers come together, it often translates to boosts in efficiency, according to Mike Edwards, CEO of MedMinder, a pharmaceutical and connected care provider. This can in turn lead to improved timely hospice access and outcomes, as well as a better understanding of patient needs at the end of life, Edwards said.
“Hospice that leverage technology become more efficient in the care that they’re providing to the patients,” Edwards told Hospice News. “Technology and pharmacy partners are part of the ecosystem that help hospices adapt to patient needs as they progress at the end of life. These partners open doors around access to end-of-life care.”
Working with technology and pharmaceutical providers also gives hospices more data on the back end so that caregivers, family members and practitioners may better understand how the patient is dealing with their care plan, Edwards said.
On the operational side, some providers are using technology to combat labor pressures.
For example, California-headquartered Silverado Hospice last year announced plans to launch an AI tracking system to help identify potential candidates earlier in their career searches, according to April Wilson, Silverado’s vice president of hospice operations.
The AI-powered applicant tracking system is designed to help the hospice grow as its staffing needs increase, Wilson previously told Hospice News.
Technology can be leveraged to overcome barriers to hospice access on the provider side, according to Carla Davis, senior vice president of operations at LHC Group (NASDAQ: LHCG). For instance, technology systems can help create staffing efficiencies that cut down on data entry or allow for more flexible, balanced scheduling, Davis said.
“[It’s using technology to be more efficient and thinking through what needs are at the bedside, and what unmet needs exist in your local markets that can have more specialization, expertise and efficiency,” Davis told Hospice News during the ELEVATE conference in Chicago.
Technology and pharmaceutical providers together can give hospices data that paint a clearer, wider picture into a patient and family experience that can extend beyond the lens of their own perspectives, Edwards said. For instance, remote patient monitoring systems can help hospices understand medication needs, as well as blood pressure and heart rate levels, while adding telehealth can additionally add a virtual window into a patient’s world, he added.
Jet Health has seen positive trends emerge following their adoption of telehealth and remote patient monitoring, according to Bratcher.
“We use telehealth to supplement our in-person visits, provide on-demand access to a provider, and to prevent hospitalization. Remote patient monitoring allows us to capture small changes in a patient’s status prior to an exacerbation or need to transfer to the hospital,” Bratcher told Hospice News. “The information available through remote monitoring has allowed our clinicians to decide if a patient needs an immediate visit. This has allowed us to decrease our hospitalization rates, improve our patient satisfaction and increase our clinician satisfaction as well.”
Similar trends are emerging on the pharmacy side.
A growing number of hospice pharmacies have been stretching their reach across the country in recent years. Illinois-based DeliverCareRx expanded its footprint into Arizona with a new location that opened in 2021, widening access to its hospice pharmacy and home delivery services in the southwestern United States. The hospice pharmacy service provider opened a New Jersey location and another facility in California the prior year.
In 2020 pharmacy services giant PharMerica acquired OnePoint Patient Care (OPPC), which provided medications and pharmacy benefits management services to more than 350 hospices nationwide prior to the transaction.
UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) subsidiary Optum Hospice Pharmacy Services in 2019 began collaborating with Genoa Healthcare to establish pharmacies specializing in hospice care in 47 states, a move designed to improve local access to medications and facilitate speedier delivery for hospice providers and patients.
Pharmacy providers can help hospices to manage direct and indirect pharmacy costs, according to Raymond Capella, who previously served as vice president of clinical services at Enclara Pharmacia. They can also provide strategic symptom management strategies and improve their care delivery, Capella previously told Hospice News.
Philadelphia-based Enclara Pharmacia recently expanded its Neighborhood Connections network with eight new pharmacy locations in Miami and Jacksonville, Florida, markets. The program is intended to reduce barriers to hospice medications and services.
Pharmacy benefits managers can help hospices cut down their overall costs and address other aspects of their end-of-life needs, according to Deanna Douglass, senior vice president of business development at Enclara Pharmacia.
“Medication is often the largest expense for hospices after staffing and facilities,” Douglass told Hospice News in an email. “Hospices look to their PBM and pharmacy partners for help managing those costs. [We] work together with hospices to regularly address the social determinants of health, such as nutrition, transportation and other non-medical needs that can impact hospice utilization and care. Many of our clients have been very deliberate about identifying and closing these gaps.”
Partnerships like these can also help providers address social determinants of health, according to Tim Ashe, chief clinical officer at WellSky, a home health and hospice software company .
Technology and PBM providers can link hospices to important data and resources around food insecurity, medication distribution, transportation, housing and safety needs, Ashe added.
“Investing in these partnerships creates an ecosystem of organizations that work into the fabric of hospice care,” Ashe told Hospice News. “It’s creating this connected health system that doubles down on ensuring whole-person care, both traditional health and care related to the needs of individuals and their families and communities. It’s increasingly important in light of addressing social determinants of health particularly at the end of life or advanced illness situations when social determinants have a very large role to play in making a difference.”