New UNC Health program to provide in-home hospital care for some patients

Orange County News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – Patients who go to the hospital usually stay until they’re well enough to go home on their own. However, later in 2021, UNC Health will offer qualifying patients the chance to go home, taking their health care team with them.

“Their care is managed the exact same way they would be managed at the hospital, by a 24/7 command center of nurses and providers who are there constantly watching after that patient,” explained Matt Smith. He is the Vice President of Well Care and Specialty Services at UNC Health System.

UNC Health announced it is partnering with Medically Home Group, Inc. for the Acute Care at Home Program. Smith said the program is being used at a handful of hospitals around the country, including the Mayo Clinic.

If a patient is part of the program, health care workers go to the patient’s home to perform procedures and treatments. The patient has an iPad to interact with doctors and nurses at all hours, as well as devices that monitor vital signs or symptoms.

Smith said this won’t affect health care workers’ abilities to focus on patients in the hospital because there will be two separate teams, one focusing solely on patients at home. “This allows providers to see patients more efficiently,” explained Smith. “We have been looking at this effectively as another hospital; it’s another care setting that we would have a separate clinical team there.”

He said UNC plans to hire additional staff for the program.

“Through COVID, as our providers have gotten used to the virtual environment, there’s been a lot of interest,” he noted.

The at-home approach won’t work for everyone. Smith said it will be right for about 20 to 25 percent of patients who come into emergency departments. It could help people with chronic illness, infections, those who recently had surgery, and some COVID-19 patients, among others.

Smith said a patient’s condition would need to be stable.

“Our feeling is, we are having regular routine engagement with the patient and we have a good sense of where they are. But, if they need to call emergency services, those would be called and they would be arranged through the program.”

He said teams monitoring patients virtually can also notice problems and get treatment for a patient before that problem leads to an emergency. ​

UNC hopes to have the program in place by May or June in Chapel Hill and at REX hospital, and then expand across the state. Because it is so new, UNC is still working with insurance companies to figure out costs.

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