UNC’s Advanced Care at Home Program Receives Highsmith Award at One-Year Milestone

It’s an innovative program reshaping healthcare right from the comfort of your home. From improved patient outcomes to higher patient and clinician satisfaction, the UNC Health’s hospital at home program, Advanced Care at Home, has shown how home hospitalization can have a life-changing positive impact on patients and families. In honor of its excellence, the program received the Highsmith Award for Innovation, one of the North Carolina Healthcare Association’s (NCHA) highest group honors. It is presented for collaborative work by hospitals and health systems that utilize new skills, practices and systems to transform healthcare delivery to patients.

“It is exciting that others including the NCHA see the value of the hospital at home care model,” said Meera Udayakumar, MD, Advanced Care at Home medical director.  “Our team felt from our patient experience and clinical outcome data, that we were providing excellent care, but it’s still extremely rewarding to get this recognition.”

Advanced Care at Home delivers hospital level care including infusions, diagnostic tests, nursing assessments and physician visits to patients in their homes through a combination of in-person and virtual care. The program began by serving patients from UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill and UNC Health Rex in Raleigh who had specific diagnoses such as heart failure, COPD, and pneumonia. However, the program quickly expanded clinical abilities to cover additional medical conditions. Also, it increased patient access to other parts of North Carolina including: UNC Hillsborough and UNC Holly Springs. Since the program went live on August 30, 2021, it has so far provided care to 456 patients ranging from age 37 to 103 across 46 zip codes in the state – proving there are many benefits to receiving hospital care in the space that patients prefer, their home.

“This care model allows patients to avoid certain risk factors inherent to traditional hospitalization, such as deconditioning and delirium or confusion,” said Dr. Udayakumar.  “It also allows caregivers to be more involved in a patient’s hospital care, which is especially important if that individual is going to be supporting the patient after hospital discharge. Additionally, this program also provides the care team insight into a patient’s home situation, which can have a significant impact on their health.”

As the pandemic raged on during the delta and omicron variant waves in the second half of 2021 and early 2022, shifting care to a patient’s home not only kept them safe and comfortable, but also freed up hospital space and staff for critically ill COVID patients. “Sick but stable” patients received 24/7 virtual care and UNC Health clinicians carried out patient-care plans deploying a network of in-home service providers including paramedics, skilled nurses, lab services, mobile imaging, therapy, and more.

“This program was designed and implemented by frontline, patient -facing healthcare workers who wanted to create a care model that we would offer to our own families,” said Dr. Udayakumar. “Staff from across the UNC Health system collaborated to create a program that provides high clinical quality, safety, and a positive patient experience.”

Reducing stress of hospitalization by providing a seamless transition of healthcare in the home has helped many patients to maintain their independence and continue the healing process where they feel most comforted. The Advanced Care at Home model enables patients to receive the right care in the right place at the right time and the reviews about the program speak for themselves.

“It’s a wonderful program, and people will get better quicker at home because you’re so comfortable where you’re used to being, and there’s just no place like home. The people that came and took care of me were just like family to me.” – Mrs. Gray

“I am extremely happy to have had this very professional service which I feel was far more mentally and physically effective in helping my recovery than staying at the hospital.” – Anonymous

“I thought the program sounded wonderful and it was. Being in your own house and sleeping in your own bed makes a world of difference. The staff were very caring and gave me very personalized care.” – Debby Kremer

One year of success so far and the program has already shown improved satisfaction, comfort, and convenience for patients and caregivers. As technologies advance and as people age who are comfortable with computers, cell phones and other devices, acute-level care at home will likely grow. The future impact of this approach can only pave the way for a better experience and a more personalized healthcare journey for patients.

“I am very proud of the Advanced Care at Home team and UNC Health for leading the way in healthcare innovation,” said Dr. Udayakumar. “It’s incredible what has been accomplished over the past year. We have seen excellent clinical outcomes and patient experience. I hope that in the future, we can improve access to this program and care for more patients. “

Advanced Care at Home, in-person care, UNC, virtual care

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