What if you could be admitted to the hospital—in your own bedroom?

That’s the idea of a health care model called Hospital at Home, which is aimed at elderly patients with diseases such as congestive heart failure, emphysema, urinary tract infections, or pneumonia.

According to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs, people receiving this care through the New Mexico-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services had equal or better outcomes than those getting  traditional hospital treatment, and were more satisfied with their care. In addition, care at home cost nearly 20 percent less than a hospital stay.

Hospital at Home (HaH) was created by Dr. Bruce Leff and colleagues at the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine and public health. The idea is pretty simple, though a little hard to grasp at first.

Like anyone else, an HaH patient is admitted to the hospital, usually through the emergency department. But some carefully selected patients—if they choose–can be cared for at home instead of receiving treatment in a room at the hospital. All the necessary equipment, such as a bed, oxygen, or medications, as well as monitoring devices, is provided at home. Physicians and nurses visit regularly and the patient’s vital signs are constantly monitored remotely. As with any hospital stay, the patient is discharged at an appropriate time, after which she may receive separate post-acute care if she needs it.  

While patients in the Presbyterian model may live alone, HaH patients often have the assistance of family caregivers who may supplement the care provided medical professionals. That can save money and potentially improve care, but also increase the burden on those family members.

Unfortunately, traditional fee-for-service Medicare won’t pay for AaH. Under Medicare rules, a patient must receive hospital care only in a hospital, and nowhere else. But integrated care programs such as Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care, as well as a few commercial health plans, do pay for HaH. A nice story in Kaiser Health News describes how Presbyterian and a few other health systems are planning to expand the model. In addition, the program is available on a limited basis through the Veterans Administration and is also being offered in Europe.

The Presbyterian results are striking. The HaH patients’ average length of stay was shorter (3.3 days v. 4.5 days), quality and patient satisfaction were higher. HaH patients were less likely to die during their admission. However, they were also slightly more likely to be readmitted to the hospital with 30 days, and about 2.5 percent of them had to be transferred from home to the hospital during their HaH admission.

The program also saved money. Why? Presbyterian concluded it was because those lengths of stay were shorter and, interestingly, because it reduced the number of diagnostic tests these patients received.  After all, a doctor can’t just send a patient down to imaging for yet another MRI when she is at home.

One other fascinating result: Once Presbyterian realized how well care at home works, it decided to take a step back to the future and has now deployed physicians to do medical house calls.

Implementing Hospital at Home is not easy. As the researchers at Presbyterian note, it requires careful care coordination and significant changes in payment structures. But it is a model that has great promise—both for patients and health systems.