Telehealth Respite Services for Children with Disabilities

11 Jan 2022
Discover the transformative power of telehealth respite services for children with disabilities, offering flexible and accessible care.

Understanding Respite Care

Before delving into the intricacies of telehealth respite services, it is crucial to comprehend the concept of respite care. From its definition to its importance, this section aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of respite care.

Definition of Respite Care

Respite care, as defined by WebMD, is a service that provides a temporary break for caregivers from their responsibilities, ranging from a few hours to several days. This care can be offered at home, community centers, assisted living facilities, or hospitals.

There are different forms of respite care, each catering to various needs:

  • In-home respite care: In this setup, care providers act as companions for individuals, providing company and ensuring safety. They may also assist with tasks like bathing, dressing, grooming, medication management, and eating. These services can be arranged through home health agencies or local departments on aging.
  • Adult day centers: These centers provide a variety of activities like exercise, music classes, and supervised meals. This form of care encourages engagement and socialization, which may help slow the progression of conditions such as Alzheimer's and dementia.
  • Short-term assisted living or residential respite care: Some assisted living facilities offer short-term stays for respite care, providing a safe and comfortable environment for individuals while their primary caregivers take a break.

Importance of Respite Care

Respite care is vital for maintaining the physical and mental well-being of caregivers. By providing a temporary break, it allows caregivers to rest, rejuvenate, and return to their caregiving duties with renewed energy and a fresh perspective. Additionally, for the individuals receiving care, respite services can provide social interaction and stimulation, contributing to their overall well-being.

However, the cost of respite care can be a significant factor for many families. On average, an in-home caregiver costs around $26 per hour, while the median cost for a day of adult day services is $80. The average cost for a day in an assisted living center for respite care is approximately $152. While most insurance companies do not cover the cost of respite care, some long-term care policies and programs like Medicare may offer coverage. Additionally, there are financial assistance programs available through state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and specific condition-focused groups.

Figures courtesy WebMD

In the following sections, we will explore the transition of respite care to telehealth, its benefits and limitations, and the future of telehealth respite services.

Transition to Telehealth Respite Services

The transition to telehealth respite services has been a significant development in the provision of care for children with disabilities. It offers numerous benefits, while also presenting some challenges that need to be addressed.

Benefits of Telehealth Respite Services

Telehealth respite services offer a range of benefits, primarily in terms of accessibility and efficiency. Originally developed to provide basic care to rural and underserved patients, telehealth has become standard in many practices since the COVID-19 pandemic [1].

One of the key advantages of telehealth respite services is its ability to provide access to resources and care for patients in areas with provider shortages. This feature is particularly beneficial for families living in remote or rural areas where access to traditional respite services might be limited.

Moreover, telehealth improves efficiency without leading to higher net costs. It facilitates reduced patient travel and wait times, contributing to a smoother and more manageable experience for families. Furthermore, telehealth has shown to offer comparable or even improved quality of care.

For caregivers, telehealth interventions have been found to lead to significant improvement in outcomes, particularly in psychological functioning. This is crucial as the mental health of caregivers often impacts the quality of care provided.

Limitations and Challenges

While telehealth respite services offer considerable benefits, they also come with a set of challenges that need to be addressed for their potential to be fully realized.

A major obstacle to the widespread adoption and use of telehealth is the issue of reimbursement. Medicare, state Medicaid programs, and commercial insurance plans present challenges in terms of covering telehealth services. This can make it difficult for some families to afford these services despite their benefits.

Another limitation is the lack of multistate licensure, which can inhibit the reach of telehealth services. Providers must obtain and uphold licensure in multiple states, making it more complex to provide services to a broader range of patients.

Despite these challenges, the value of telehealth respite services is undeniable. As the industry continues to evolve, it is essential for policy changes to take place that can address these barriers and help make these services more accessible and effective for all families in need.

Guidelines for Telehealth Respite Services

The implementation of telehealth respite services requires clear guidelines and policies to ensure its effectiveness and compliance with regulations. This includes understanding the changes in policies related to these services and identifying the most suitable delivery methods and technologies.

Policy Changes for Telehealth Respite

As telehealth respite services evolve, so do the policies governing them. Starting from Jan. 1, 2023, the New York State Department of Health policy flexibility that allowed for Children’s Respite Services during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) will end. EmblemHealth HCBS providers will need to revert to the original guidance provided in the HCBS Manual.

Furthermore, planned and crisis respite services may not exceed the 14-day (1,344 15-minute units) annual limit without medical necessity, which should be documented in the member’s record. EmblemHealth authorization must also be documented in the child’s case record. HCBS provided beyond these limits MUST be supported by medical necessity, such as documentation through a Licensed Practitioner of the Healing Arts (LPHA) attestation form. The HCBS Manual will be updated to provide additional guidance regarding the specific day/unit requirements.

Delivery Methods and Technologies

Telehealth was originally developed to provide basic care to rural and underserved patients, but higher rates of use of telehealth are now standard in many practices since the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth includes a wide range of practices and specialties and involves interactions among patients and providers through telephone, e-mail, video chats or conferences, the Internet, and remote devices.

Telehealth provides access to resources and care for patients in rural areas or areas with provider shortages, improves efficiency without higher net costs, reduces patient travel and wait times, and allows for comparable or improved quality of care.

Telehealth interventions for family caregivers of individuals with chronic health conditions have been shown to lead to significant improvement in caregiver outcomes, particularly in psychological functioning. Telephone was the most frequently used mode of telehealth delivery in these interventions. Skills training was a prevalent treatment strategy across telephone, web, and combined telephone and web modalities in telehealth interventions for family caregivers [2].

Web interventions for family caregivers of individuals with chronic health conditions showed significant improvements in psychological well-being, caregiving skills, and quality of life for the intervention groups compared to comparison/control groups. Telehealth interventions using a combination of telephone and web modalities were found to be effective in improving caregiver outcomes, including psychological well-being, social functioning, caregiving skills, and quality of life.

Telehealth interventions have the potential to reach underserved, rural-residing caregiver populations, providing convenient access to interventions and reducing barriers such as transportation and respite care costs.

Implementing Telehealth Respite Care

In the face of a shifting healthcare landscape, the implementation of telehealth respite services has become increasingly relevant. This section will cover the types of activities that can be performed via telehealth and the guidelines for billing and documentation.

Telehealth Activities for Respite

Telehealth respite activities can be diverse and interactive, ranging from educational to recreational activities. These may include tutorials, educational classes, exercise classes, live performances, interactive games, and others. The aim is to provide a respite for caregivers while engaging the child or youth in a beneficial and appropriate manner.

Two-way audio-visual technology such as FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangout, Zoom, Loom, WebEx, or Skype could be used for these services. However, public-facing video communication applications like Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok, and similar apps are not recommended for this purpose.

Providers must exercise clinical judgment to determine if a telehealth encounter is suitable for service delivery, ensuring the health and safety of the child or youth. Services should be utilized when they can be effectuated via verbal prompting or cueing.

Billing and Documentation

When it comes to billing for telehealth respite services, providers should note the time actively spent delivering the service, assisting with set-up, and actively engaging in the activities with the child or youth [4].

It's important to note that respite services may not be billed simultaneously in both an institutional and Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) setting.

In terms of documentation, providers must ensure that telehealth respite services meet the definition of respite per the Children´s HCBS Manual and are clinically appropriate to meet the needs of the child or youth. Good clinical judgment is essential in this process, and the health and safety of the child or youth must be ensured.

Implementing telehealth respite services requires a careful selection of activities, a meticulous adherence to billing and documentation guidelines, as well as a deep commitment to ensuring the well-being and safety of children and youth with disabilities. It's a transformational journey that promises to reinvent and elevate the standards of care for children with disabilities and their caregivers.

Ensuring Quality and Compliance

Adapting to the delivery of respite services via telehealth involves ensuring the quality of services and compliance with regulatory standards. The promotion of good clinical judgment and adherence to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) are integral parts of this transition.

Clinical Judgment in Telehealth

The New York State Department of Health states that telehealth services for respite care must meet the definition of respite as per the Children´s HCBS Manual and be clinically appropriate to meet the needs of the child/youth. Providers must exercise good clinical judgment to determine if a telehealth encounter is suitable for service delivery while ensuring the health and safety of the individual.

In this context, good clinical judgment involves assessing if a telehealth encounter is appropriate for the delivery of services to an individual. This includes ensuring the health and safety of the individual through this service modality and considering if the delivery of services can be effectuated via verbal prompting/cueing.

Compliance with HIPAA Regulations

Compliance with HIPAA regulations is crucial when delivering telehealth respite services. This includes the appropriate use of technology and adherence to privacy standards. Approved technology methods for delivering telehealth respite services include two-way, audio-visual technology such as FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangout, Zoom, Loom, WebEx, or Skype. Public-facing video communication applications like Facebook live, Twitch, TikTok, and similar platforms should not be used for respite services.

Moreover, telehealth respite activities can include online educational or recreational activities such as tutorials, educational classes, exercise classes, live performances, interactive games, and other activities. Providers are advised to bill for time actively spent delivering the service, assisting with set-up, demonstrating, and actively engaging in the activities with the child/youth.

Furthermore, respite services may not be billed simultaneously in both an institutional and Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) setting [4]. Non-compliance with these regulations can result in penalties and affect the quality of care provided to the child/youth.

In conclusion, ensuring quality and compliance in telehealth respite services requires the exercise of good clinical judgment and strict adherence to HIPAA regulations. Only through these measures can the full benefits of telehealth be realized for children with disabilities and their families.

Future of Telehealth Respite Services

As technology progresses, the realm of telehealth respite services continues to evolve, promising significant advancements and potential impacts on caregivers.

Advancements in Telehealth Technologies

Since its inception in 1993, telehealth has seen significant evolution. Currently, approximately 10 million patients in the United States receive telemedicine services each year. However, its expansion faces several challenges, such as reimbursement issues, licensing and practice regulations, and limitations on coverage.

One of the key areas for growth is broadband connectivity, which is crucial for the expansion and success of telehealth services. However, there are significant gaps in access to broadband, especially in rural and underserved populations. Although the FCC has implemented programs to improve broadband access for healthcare providers, there is a need for better evaluation of the impact and value of these programs.

As technology continues to improve, we can expect to see advancements in telehealth platforms, software, and devices, enhancing the delivery of remote care and support. Future developments may include better integration of electronic health records, more advanced remote monitoring devices, and improved cybersecurity measures to protect patient data.

Potential Impact on Caregivers

Telehealth interventions have the potential to reach underserved caregiver populations, particularly those residing in rural areas. By providing convenient access to interventions, telehealth can help reduce barriers such as transportation and respite care costs [2].

Digital health interventions also have the potential to support family caregivers and improve their psychological health, self-efficacy, caregiving skills, quality of life, social support, and problem-coping abilities.

Studies show significant improvements in caregiver outcomes, including reduced anxiety, depression, stress, burden, and isolation; increased self-efficacy, positive attitudes, and sense of control; improved communication and management skills; and enhanced social support and problem coping skills.

As telehealth respite services continue to evolve, the future holds promise for improved support for caregivers and better quality of life for individuals with disabilities. By leveraging advancements in technology, we can create accessible, effective, and holistic care solutions for our most vulnerable populations.

References

[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7577680/

[2]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8164532/

[3]: https://www.emblemhealth.com/providers/news/changes-to-hcbs-202301

[4]: https://www.health.ny.gov/healthcare/medicaid/redesign/behavioralhealth/children/updatedcovid19hcbsrespiteguidancejune2021end_eo202.htm

[5]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207146/

[6]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10201006/

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