Harris Health begins Hospital at Home service to reduce ER wait and improve patient outcomes

Posted by Janet B. Stroud — March 7, 2024 — A new program, believed to be the first of its kind in greater Houston, Texas, gives patients needing hospital-level care the opportunity to receive it at home. Harris Health System launched its Hospital at Home service February 26. It’s a program the system hopes will help enhanceHarris Health System logo access for all patients and improve the flow of patients through congested emergency departments.

Nationally, other healthcare systems are providing similar hospital care at home. According to the National Institutes of Health, a recent report touts the success of this type of care as “compared with patients in a hospital setting, patients in Hospital at Home programs had better clinical outcomes and lower readmission rates.”

Harris Health hopes to achieve similar results. In simple terms, patients with non-life-threatening conditions like urinary tract infections, cellulitis and hypertensive urgency can receive hospital care at home and not be admitted into a hospital bed, which can then be used for more complicated patient cases. The program is optional for patients who meet certain requirements: agree to participate and have a house or apartment, electricity, running water and safe accommodations. Organizers estimate that even a 1-10% decrease in patients admitted into Harris Health’s brick-and-mortar hospitals — Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson — could cut unnecessary use of resources and increase bed capacity.

Dr. Shazia Sheikh, medical director, Harris Health Hospital at Home, and assistant professor, Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, pointed out:

Any extended time a patient waits in the emergency center can be an ordeal. The more people we’re able to treat at home, the more our capacity increases at our hospitals. Who wants to wait in the emergency center for hours when they’re in pain?

Patients arriving at hospital emergency centers are screened. If they agree and qualify, the patient is transported home by Harris Health with a team of doctors or nurse practitioners who conduct an immediate visit. The team conducts up to two daily visits while the patient is in the program, and are responsive to patient calls 24/7.

Rohan Dwivedi, director of operations, Harris Health Hospital at Home, explained:

Hospital at Home and the team provide the same comprehensive care the patient would receive at the hospital, all in the comfort of their home. As a not-for-profit public safety-net healthcare system, every dollar Harris Health saves will get reinvested into other services and programs. So, if we can save 33% on care for each patient through this program, that’s the same amount that we can dedicate back to care provided elsewhere in the system.

Patients in the program receive a web-based tablet capable of connecting them to their doctor and nurse 24/7 to answer questions and concerns. If the patient requires a higher level of acute care, Harris Health picks up the patient and takes him/her to the hospital. The initial goal of the program is to have four patients receiving hospital care at home at all times with the ability to scale up to 16 or more as the program grows and matures.

Amy Smith, senior vice president, Care Integration and Transition, Harris Health, stated:

I truly believe in the Hospital at Home Program and its potential. What Harris Health is doing is a ‘calling.’ We’re bringing the hospital to the community and expanding our ability to serve more patients.

Smith adds that the program is expected to improve patient satisfaction as it reduces hospital length of stay and lowers the readmittance rate. Additionally, in-home care is significantly more cost-effective than critical care in a hospital setting.

Sheikh agreed, saying:

Improving patients’ lives is why I got into healthcare. What’s so exciting about the program is our ability to build it from the ground up with that goal in mind.

The future of the Hospital at Home Program is exciting. The team has built the program’s infrastructure, which includes information technology (IT), pharmacy services and a larger Harris Health clinician team.

Sheikh added:

I’m so proud of our team. Our hope is that Harris Health’s Hospital at Home Program can become a model for improved emergency center and hospital care for others in the U.S.

Harris Health System is the public healthcare safety-net provider established in 1966 to serve the residents of Harris County, Texas. As an essential healthcare system, Harris Health champions better health for the entire community, with a focus on low-income uninsured and underinsured patients, through acute and primary care, wellness, disease management, population health and correctional health services. Ben Taub Hospital (Level I Trauma Center) and Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital (Level III Trauma Center) anchor Harris Health’s robust network of 37 clinics, health centers, specialty locations and virtual (telemedicine) technology.

Harris Health is among an elite list of health systems in the U.S. achieving Magnet nursing excellence designation for its hospitals, the prestigious National Committee for Quality Assurance designation for its patient-centered clinics and health centers and its strong partnership with nationally recognized physician faculty, residents and researchers from Baylor College of Medicine; McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth); The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; and the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine at the University of Houston.