In what is being pitched as the largest and most comprehensive study in the history of home healthcare technology, two major industry player in the sector, together with a consultant firm three, announced the launch of a national study on the future telehealth in home care.

Sponsored by the consumer healthcare solutions division of Royal Philips Electronics (Amsterdam, the Netherlands), and co-sponsored by the National Association for Home Care (NAHC; Washinton) and Fazzi Associates (Northampton Massachusetts), the study is designed to generate industry-wide insights into the use of technology and telehealth by the full range of home care agencies.

"As a result of this project we hope to get a clear understanding of the scope of technology usage — primarily telehealth — by home care and hospice providers — what their experiences with technology are, problems they encounter, and the successes that they, and their patients experience," Mary St. Pierre, VP for regulatory affairs of the NAHC, told Medical Device Daily. "We also hope to learn what help they need to use technology more effectively. Strategies that they use with certain conditions like congestive heart failure, wound care, diabetes will be identified."

She added: "The telehealth part of the research will be both quantitative and qualitative."

Philips' sponsorship of the study followed an earlier survey by Fazzi of home care association leaders.

"Association leaders were asked to rate the importance and need for five different studies," said Robert Fazzi, president of the benchmarking and research firm that will be conducting the study. "A study on the present and future uses of technology was by far the No. 1 choice of both association and home care leaders."

Michael Lemnitzer, senior director of Philips consumer healthcare, described the goal of the study as providing home care leaders with "the first real objective assessment of what is happening in terms of adoption, successes and challenges of major types of technology now being used in the home care field. We want to generate useful insights, based on market research, that enable easier, more educated decisions for home care leaders on the use of technologies such as telehealth in the delivery of services."

The study will involve three phases, St. Pierre told MDD, with Sept. 1 targeted as the date for completion.

"Analysis will take place during September," she said, "and the results will be presented at the NAHC meeting in October. The statistical analysis will represent the field by size of agency, rural versus urban, region of the country, and hospital-based vs. free-standing agencies. We plan to have a statistically representative sample of agencies by size and urban versus rural."

The study includes the involvement of a national steering committee of home care leaders representing all regions of the country and all segments of the industry experts. It also is designed to involve state and national home associations in generating input to the study and in disseminating the findings and recommendations to the field.

As part of this study, Philips said it has made a commitment to make the findings available free to every agency in the country as well as to technology vendors. "Philips is committed to fostering growth and vision in this field and to do whatever we can to advance the mission and work of home care agencies," said Lemnitzer.

The future of technology and telehealth in home healthcare, because still in stages of relative infancy, is far from being clear, but St. Pierre was optimistic about its prospects.

"It is anticipated that technology, in particular telehealth, will be the centerpiece of home care in the years to come," she said. "One vision is that most people in the country will have a telehealth system in the home. The hardware will likely be free with the charges being for the monitoring, evaluation, and consultative services. These services will play a critical role in crises intervention, and reduction of hospitalizations and emergent care visits.

"Telehealth has already shown to be an effective tool in reduction of hospitalization of home health patients."

Philips consumer healthcare solutions offers a range of telehealth solutions for home care and disease management, including remote monitoring for patients with chronic conditions, risk assessment services, and Motiva interactive platform for patient education and self-management.

NAHC is the nation's largest trade association representing the interests of home care agencies, hospices, home care aide organizations and medical equipment suppliers.

Fazzi Associates is a consulting, benchmarking and best practice research firm that it says helps clients create "outcome-oriented solutions to present problems while creating the capacity to successfully address and resolve future challenges."

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