Pandemic pushes expansion of 'hospital-at-home' treatment

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Photo credit Nurse practitioner Sadie Paez uses a stethoscope to listen to the chest of William Merry, who is recovering from pneumonia at his home, Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Ipswich, Mass. As hospitals care for people with COVID-19 and try to keep others from catching the virus, more patients are opting to be treated where they feel safest: at home. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

As hospitals care for people with COVID-19 and try to keep others from catching the virus, more patients are opting to be treated where they feel safest: at home.

Across the U.S., “hospital at home” programs are taking off amid the pandemic, thanks to communications technology, portable medical equipment and teams of doctors, nurses, X-ray techs and paramedics. That’s reducing strains on medical centers and easing patients' fears.

The programs represent a small slice of the roughly 35 million U.S. hospitalizations each year, but they are growing fast with boosts from Medicare and private health insurers. Like telemedicine, the concept stands to become more popular with consumers hooked on home delivery and other Internet-connected conveniences.

Eligible patients typically are acutely ill with — but don’t need round-the-clock intensive care for — common conditions including chronic heart failure, respiratory ailments, diabetes complications, infections and even COVID-19.

They are linked to 24/7 command centers via video and monitoring devices that send their vital signs. They get several daily home visits from a dedicated medical team. Just like in a hospital, they can press an emergency button any time for instant help.

Research on such programs around the world over the past 25 years shows patients recover faster, have fewer complications and are more satisfied, while costs can be a third lower.