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Nearly the entire world has spent more than a third of 2020 dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the same way, HME providers have had to craft their strategies for handling the public health emergency, and the vendors they work with have tried to help facilitate the process.

One such vendor is HME and post-acute software company Brightree. Since March, the company has been looking at how it can help HME providers during COVID-19 from various standpoints, according to Rob Boeye, executive vice president of HME for the company.

That effort goes beyond merely integrating new reimbursement policies, such as the 50/50 blended rate for rural suppliers or the 75/25 blended rate for non-rural/non-bid providers into their systems; it’s about adapting to new approaches to doing business and providing care. Some top priorities, he explains, are facilitating new workflows, such as contactless deliveries and remote setups; patient engagement; enabling new work arrangements for providers; and helping HME businesses work with referral partners.

One thing that has helped the process has been Brightree’s “coffee talks,” a typically bi-monthly intra-company webinar series Boeye hosts to learn from HME providers.

“We’ve done this throughout the pandemic,” he says. “We’ll typically have one or two providers on, and I ask them some questions such as, ‘What’s your current business model now? Are you open again? Are you seeing an increase in patients coming into your facility? Are you delivering again, meaning having delivery technicians deliver supplies and equipment, and are your employees back?’ Because many of them, if not all of them, sent their employees to work from home.”

He continues: “Then I follow that up with, ‘What have been the lessons you’ve learned, and what do you think will be that new normal for you? What will that new business model look like?’”

Robert F. Boeye Executive Vice President, Home Medical Equipment (HME), Brightree
Robert F. Boeye Executive Vice President,
Home Medical Equipment (HME), Brightree

Contactless delivery

Those discussions quickly helped point out ways in which Brightree could help by implementing new workflows and protocols early into the COVID-19 situation, such as contactless delivery.

“We initially made some changes to our mobile delivery management platform, including updating delivery tickets with the infectious disease indicators ensuring the delivery agents wore the appropriate personal protective equipment,” Boeye says, adding Brightree then moved onto the bigger question: how were providers going to get signature when they dropped that product off?

“We still had providers either dropping off at the curb or dropping off on the patient’s doorstep,” he explains. “So, we added the capability within the mobile delivery application for pictures at delivery to show a delivery was made in lieu of a signature. Those are some quick things that we were able to implement.”

Then it gets to the more complex stages of supporting that exchange. Boeye notes that providers and manufacturers alike are trying to determine the optimal approach to creating electronic signature processes that can be part of contactless delivery workflows. However, for now, the addition of photo capture works well, as CMS has temporarily waived DMEPOS signature and proof-of-delivery requirements when a signature cannot be obtained.

Remote setup

Next up in terms of the evolution of workflows under COVID-19 would be remote setups. This has the potential to get tricky, given the complexity of some HME, but already some providers are implementing procedures such as remote setup on devices as high-tech as PAP therapy devices for sleep therapy patients.

“I think it’s still in the infancy stages,” Boeye says. “People are saying, ‘Okay, I have a complex system here. How do I do the training: via videos or online? Then they have to figure out the logistics of setting up that training and getting patients on board.’ Certainly, companies are looking into that, but that’s not a direct Brightree application. Those applications would come more from the manufacturers … but I know providers are pushing for it.

“Brightree wants to be an integral part of any future technology and remote setup on any product,” he adds. “We want to make sure that there is a marriage between the physician or the referral source and the patient, who can use these devices, through Brightree, to track compliance and the patient experience.”

Work from home

Also, COVID-19 has introduced new approaches to running an HME in terms of operations and organization. For example, not all staff needs to be in the physical business location. They can operate as a remote employee. Because Brightree is a software as a service (SaaS)-based system, Boeye thinks his platform can help providers in that context.

“You can open up your laptop, you log in to your encrypted login, and you get into Brightree,” he says. “That allows you to work from anywhere. I think a lot of our providers are looking at their current brick-and-mortar and saying, ‘Is this the way I want to go moving forward?’ I think that if you talk to a lot of them that are on Brightree, they would tell you that it has allowed them to move very quickly from brick-and-mortar and their offices to their home and still have maintain productivity.”

As providers have implemented work-from-home arrangements, Boeye says they increasingly need ways to track those employees and ensure they remain productive.

“We made sure that we could offer our customers analytics that allows them to make sure they manage the productivity of their overall business,” he says. “… It starts with their goals and then offers alerts and ways they can assist in getting resolution to any issue that comes up in their business. So providers are utilizing our analytics to manage their business and to manage the productivity of their employees.”

Referral partners and patients

For some time, Brightree has been pushing integration with referral partners as a technology imperative for post-acute providers, such as HME businesses. For example, Nick Knowlton, vice president of Business Development at Brightree is also the chairman of the CommonWell Alliance, which is a healthcare IT interoperability group. Since the COVID-19 PHE, Boeye says that push toward more seamless interoperability has only increased.

“I think right now the HME industry is showing our referral sources and payers what can be done with remote monitoring, scheduling, training and repair work. We as an industry are cutting down the operational costs right now and really putting a focus on virtual care and virtual repair.”

Plus, apps such as Patient Hub by Brightree® that help patients interact with HME providers and take charge of their homecare and equipment, as well as get training on their equipment, also help providers demonstrate their value to referrals.

“I think there’s a lot of ways that the provider can affect the overall care of a patient and assist a referral source,” he says. “Brightree is making sure everything we do revolves around the patient and the referral source, including making sure the patient gets the best care possible through the HME providers, our customers.”

And ultimately, Boeye says the goal is that, through helping the patients and demonstrating value to referral partners, providers can raise not only their businesses’ profiles but that of the entire industry.

“If there’s ever going to be a time where we show how relevant this industry is, and how helpful it can be in the continuum of care, it is right now,” he explains.