Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Commenting is open.
By Brian K. Nadolne
No one wants to go to a hospital, much less stay there. We would rather stay at home, living independently. And if we can, we should.
That’s why health care professionals still make house calls. At this very moment, some of your neighbors are quietly receiving health care services at home. Every year, some 658 home health care organizations in Georgia send professional caregivers — nurses, therapists, social workers and others — to look after an estimated 92,700 patients.
Yet the value of health care at home — the lifeline it represents, especially for the elderly, the chronically ill and the homebound — remains little recognized, seldom appreciated and largely misunderstood.
As a result, vast needs are still going unmet. An estimated 12 million Americans currently receive health care at home, according to the National Association for Home Care & Hospice. Yet to the best of my knowledge, no organization tracks the untold millions of patients who are no doubt either going without health care at home or getting less than needed.
Consider the context. The aging of the American population is accelerating. And about three in four Americans age 65-plus have multiple chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). More Americans, especially older ones, are living alone than at any time in history, too. Nearly a third of all U.S. households — 31 million — have just one resident.
One solution is health care delivered right to your doorstep. But first we have to take a few baby steps. The medical community, including physicians, medical schools and hospital administrators, need to better define health care at home — what it does, why it matters and how it makes a difference — to bring it to life for patients and family caregivers.
For example, health care at home is mistakenly perceived to be almost a matter of baby-sitting. In fact, the home health profession is a multi-dimensional, multi-disciplinary provider of superior post-acute clinical service.
We get more directly involved in patient care than ever before. Home health care professionals routinely manage medications, change bandages, clean surgical wounds and administer essential therapy — and do so compassionately, empowering patients (ours average 81 years of age) to live with dignity.
That kind of intimate attention yields concrete rewards. Patients under home health care sometimes move better, eat better, breathe better, suffer less pain and generally function better. In the best of scenarios, those unable to walk can once again climb to the top of the stairs. The man who lost the power of speech can once again tell his wife he loves her.
Evidence is mounting that health care delivered at home may enable patients to live longer lives, too, and, equally important, better ones. It can shorten hospital lengths of stay and lower re-admissions. It can raise the quality of care, improve patient outcomes and drive down costs.
As such, home health care is emerging as a microcosm of what the health care system should be doing. It gets us where we live. After all, true health care reform should always start at home.
Dr. Brian K. Nadolne is a family physician in Marietta and president-elect of the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians. He is also a regional medical director for Amedisys Home Health and Hospice.