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Perceptions of Hospital-at-Home Among Stakeholders: a Meta-synthesis

Abstract

Background

Hospital-at-home (HaH) provides acute healthcare in patients’ homes as an alternative to traditional hospital inpatient care. HaH has been shown to improve clinical outcomes, increase patient satisfaction, and reduce hospitalization costs. Despite its effectiveness, the uptake of HaH remains slow and little is known about factors that impact the quality and transferability of HaH. This review aimed to qualitatively synthesize existing literature to examine the perspectives of stakeholders to identify areas of improvement in this model of care.

Methodology

Six electronic databases (Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature, PubMed, Embase, PsychINFO, Scopus, and Mednar) were searched from inception date until 3 February 2021. The included studies were assessed for quality using the Critical Appraisal Skills Program tool. This review was registered on the International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews. The meta-synthesis was completed according to Sandelowski and Barroso’s guidelines.

Results

Sixteen articles met the inclusion criteria. The overarching synthesized theme was “the intricacies of developing HaH,” and the four main themes were (1) factors influencing patient selection, (2) advantages of HaH, (3) challenges of HaH, and (4) enablers for HaH development.

Conclusion

Overall, high levels of satisfaction were expressed by various stakeholders. Continuity of care remains an important factor for patient-centeredness in HaH. Caregivers should be involved in the decision-making process and supported throughout the HaH duration to prevent caregiver burnout. Collaboration and coordination among healthcare professionals are vital and can be strengthened through training and technological advancements of remote patient monitoring. Institutional and organizational support for stakeholders may make HaH a viable solution to modern healthcare challenges.

INTRODUCTION

Hospital-at-home (HaH) provides acute healthcare in a patient’s home as an alternative to traditional hospital inpatient care. This can be either a complete substitution for hospital care (admission avoidance) or a shorter hospital stay (early discharge)1. This care model remains a viable solution to the increasing global need for acute care hospital beds, rising healthcare costs, and aging population2,3. While HaH is not novel, the emergence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has brought new urgency to this mandate as the world grapples with the accelerating need for hospital beds and increased risk of nosocomial infections4. Studies have shown that HaH is a safe and effective alternative for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms, which can reduce pressure on healthcare in the hospital5,6.

The impacts of HaH on readmission risk, health-related quality of life, and patient satisfaction7,8 have been well described in quantitative studies. A 2018 Cochrane review of HaH trials reported that HaH made little to no difference in mortality rate, decreased risk of hospital readmission in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, and slightly improved patient satisfaction9. The cost of HaH compared to traditional setting is much lower and can be cheaper by up to 38%2,10. Despite its proposed benefits, HaH’s impacts are not consistent. There is evidence that the risk of readmission may be higher for HaH when patients present with multiple medical conditions9, and cost savings vary depending on the HaH’s financing mechanism (e.g., fee-for-service versus bundle payment)11. Additionally, selecting appropriate patients for HaH remains a challenge. Most selection criteria are based on diagnostic and clinical criteria, with little consideration of how patient and environmental factors contribute to HaH12. Studies have also reported evidence of clinicians’ frustrations from miscommunication within the interdisciplinary teams and difficulties with remote monitoring12,13. These challenges may contribute to the differential HaH outcomes that would not have been detected in quantitative research alone. Hence, there is a need to better understand and identify barriers (e.g., patient-centeredness and experience with delivering and receiving HaH care) for effective implementation.

In this review, we synthesized findings from qualitative studies examining the perceptions of stakeholders (patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and healthcare administrators) on their experiences with HaH. To our knowledge, this is the first review which synthesizes the experiences and perspectives of stakeholders on HaH. Our aim was to gain a comprehensive understanding of the opportunities, barriers, and facilitators of HaH. The research questions were as follows: (1) what were stakeholders’ perspectives and experiences with HaH? and (2) what were perceived to be enablers of HaH?

METHODS

Aim

This qualitative systematic review aimed to identify and synthesize available evidence of stakeholder perceptions of HaH. We applied meta-summary followed by meta-synthesis using Sandelowski and Barroso’s guideline14 to the included studies.

Search Strategy

This review was conducted based on Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA)15, and the PRISMA checklist is reported in Supplementary Table 3. A three-step approach was adopted: (1) systematic search of various electronic databases, (2) manual search of journal references, and (3) discussion with qualitative content experts. An initial search was conducted on PubMed. Keywords and index terms, Boolean, and truncation symbols were used. Subsequently, the search strategy was adapted to six electronic databases: Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), PubMed, Embase, PsychINFO, Scopus, and Mednar (gray literature) from inception until 3 February 2021. A literature search expert from the university was consulted to ensure a comprehensive search strategy16. The complete search strategy is available in Supplementary Table 1. Duplicated references were removed using Endnote X9. Titles and abstracts, followed by full-text records, were screened by two reviewers (CC and SS). A manual search of the included studies’ reference list was performed. Any discrepancies were resolved by consensus. This review was registered on the Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews (CRD42020223502).

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

Articles that were not written in English were translated using Google Translate. The inclusion criteria were as follows: (a) studies exploring the perceptions and/or experiences of an adult population as patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and healthcare administrators; (b) studies examining treatments via HaH, defined as the provision of hospital-level care in a patient’s home as an alternative for acute hospital care; and (c) studies of any type of qualitative study design or mixed-methods, with a qualitative component where the qualitative findings can be extracted. This included studies that obtained data from first-hand observation from researchers, interviews, focus groups, participants, and recordings made in natural setting. Studies were excluded if the population who received HaH care were children or adolescents.

Quality Appraisal

The two reviewers (CC and SS) conducted the quality assessment of the included studies using the Critical Appraisal Skills Program (CASP) tool17. This 10-item questionnaire comprehensively appraised various qualitative research and had been used in similar systematic reviews18. CASP evaluated the included studies on their (1) clarity and appropriateness of their aims, (2) methodology, (3) study design, (4) sampling method, (5) data collection, (6) reflexivity of the research, (7) ethical considerations, (8) data analysis, (9) rigor of findings, and (10) significance of the study. Responses from the 10-item questionnaires were “Yes,” “Can’t Tell,” or “No” with ratings of “3 points,” “2 points,” or “1 point,” respectively. The CASP score ranged from 26 to 30 points, with a total average score of 27.8 (Supplementary Table 2). The purpose of CASP was not to assign a meaning to the score for each study but to increase the rigor of the synthesis18,19. Thus, none of the studies was excluded based on their score, and all studies were equally regarded in our analysis.

Data Extraction

Data extraction (Table 1) from the included studies was conducted independently by the two reviewers (CC and SS), and extracted data were compared to ensure consistency. The extracted data were as follows: study details (e.g., author, year of publication, title of study, and country), study aims (e.g., aims, study design, methodology), sample (e.g., sample size, study inclusion criteria, participants’ characteristics), study method (data collection methods, data analysis strategy), and the results (e.g., themes and/or subthemes).

Table 1 Characteristics of Included Studies

Data Synthesis

To conduct data synthesis, Sandelowski and Barroso’s approach was employed 14. Firstly, findings of the included studies were extracted, separated, grouped, and abstracted into statements through a process called meta-summarizing. The statements were then categorized into main themes and subthemes by the two independent reviewers (CC and SS). After consensus was reached between the two reviewers, the generated themes and subthemes were comprehensively and concisely distilled into new concepts through meta-synthesis. Triangulation was maintained throughout the synthesis process by constant comparison of individual studies. Regular meetings were held throughout the synthesis process between the reviewers. Triangulation was maintained by constant comparison of codes, emerging themes, and the understanding of the participants’ views on HaH. Any discrepancies were discussed between the two reviewers until an agreement was made.

RESULTS

Characteristics of Studies

A total of 10,469 records were identified, which included 417 additional records from the gray literature. Duplicates were removed using Endnote X9’s built-in function, resulting in 6,909 records. From this, 6,284 records were excluded via their title and abstract. The remaining 625 articles underwent a full-text review, which resulted in 16 included articles (Fig. 1). Of the 16 articles, most were in English (n=15) while the one in French was translated to English using Google Translate20. The majority of the studies were from America or Europe (n=15)1,12,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32. A third of these studies were based in the UK (n=5)24,25,26,27,32 and one was in Australia33. Studies were qualitative (n=14)1,12,20,21,22,23,24,26,27,28,29,30,31,33, or mixed-methods (n=2)25,32. Studies were descriptive (n=13)12,21,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33, utilizing a grounded theory (n=2)1,20 or ethnographic approach (n=1)22. Most data were collected from individual interviews (n=12)1,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,31,32,33, focus group interviews (n=2)20,30, or both (n=1)12. The remaining study employed open-ended questionnaire29. Studies employed thematic analysis (n=9)12,21,22,24,25,26,30,32,33, content analysis (n=3)23,28,29, ground theory analysis (n=2)1,20, normalizing process theory analysis (n=1)27, or retrospective analysis (n=1)31. Most HaH provided early discharge (n=9)12,22,25,26,28,29,30,31,33 compared to admission avoidance (n=1)27, while the remaining studies did not specify. The HaH studies included patients who had multiple diagnosis (n=6)1,12,20,23,30,32, COPD (n=3)24,29,31, cancer (n=1)33, renal diseases (n=1)22, and mental illnesses (n=1)26, and also geriatric (n=2)21,27 and orthopedic patients (n=2)25,28. All HaH involved multidisciplinary teams or units, and some involved community service providers (e.g., community healthcare practitioners, community nurses, community social care managers, healthcare agency partnerships)1,12,23,24,27,28,29,30,33. Table 1 summarizes the studies’ characteristics and Table 2 depicts the types of participants interviewed.

Figure 1
figure 1

PRISMA flow diagram.

Table 2 Types of Participants Interviewed in Each Study

Findings were meta-synthesized to form an overarching theme, “the intricacies of developing HaH,” pillared by four main themes: (1) factors influencing patient selection, (2) advantages of HaH, (3) challenges of HaH, and (4) enablers for HaH development (Fig. 2).

Figure 2
figure 2

Themes and subthemes of the perceptions of HaH.

Factors Influencing Patient Selection

This theme consisted of four subthemes to describe the characteristics of patients and caregivers that make them suitable for HaH: (1) strong social support, (2) positive health behaviors, (3) confidence in receiving care at home, and (4) conducive home environment.

Various studies reported that strong social support assisted patients in home recovery1,24,26,27. Social support was mainly provided by caregivers in the form of moral support for the patients1,27, ensuring patient safety, and liaising with the healthcare professionals27. HaH was reportedly less favorable for patients who did not cohabit with their caregivers27 or for patients going through divorces24. HaH was found suitable for patients who lived alone and relied on other social connections like “friends” and “neighbors.”27

HaH was found to be suitable for patients with positive health behaviors and self-efficacy22,24,25,30. This included displaying self-restraint from negative health behaviors (e.g., smoking, drinking, consuming drugs)24,30, and self-efficacy in independently performing vital sign monitoring at home22. Some studies reported that HaH was perceived to be less favorable among those who were not confident with remote care and “prefer to be in a cocoon of a hospital environment” with “someone seconds away from them.”1,24

Lastly, suitable patients should have a conducive home environment for recovery24,28,30,33. Some studies reported difficulty in performing care when patients’ pets disrupted administration of intravenous medication30,33, the living space was small 24, or the home environment was unhygienic30. Places lacking adaptive home features for safe mobility were also not ideal for home rehabilitation28.

Advantages of HaH

This theme captured the positive experiences of stakeholders with HaH across different settings. The subthemes were as follows: (1) more comfortable and patient-centered care, (2) perceived better patient clinical outcomes, (3) more family engagement with patients, (4) improved care continuity during and beyond HaH, and (5) increased hospital bed capacity.

HaH provided patients and caregivers with a more comfortable and personalized hospitalization experience1,20,24,27,28,29,30,33. All stakeholders from various studies expressed that “being in your own home” helped preserve some sense of normalcy for patients to “follow own daily rhythm,”29 and “walk around more freely.”24 This reduced anxiety for some and boosted their morale and confidence1,24,30,33. Other studies mentioned that some healthcare professionals and caregivers felt that a sense of normalcy was essential for “end-of-life patients” and their loved ones20,27. HaH also removed the need for patients and caregivers to travel to the hospital to receive care or visit their loved ones, respectively24,33.

Furthermore, HaH promoted patient-centered care23,24,27,29,30,31,32. Patients noted that there was “time to develop rapport” for more “personal and individual” relationships with their healthcare professionals24. Similarly, healthcare professionals commented that they had more opportunities to collaborate with their patients23,27. Some healthcare professionals noted a power shift between themselves and their patients when there was change in environment (i.e., from ward to home setting). They were no longer just medical staff but were invited as “a guest” at patients’ homes with their “permission”30. Since healthcare professionals were able to assess patients in their natural home environment, both parties highlighted that medical advice was more fine-tuned to specific situations in their everyday life29,31.

HaH was perceived to improve clinical outcomes1,24,27,28,30,31,32. Patients reported having improved sleep24,32, better appetite1,24,28, and speedier recovery24,28. From healthcare professionals’ perspectives, the familiarity and privacy of home encouraged patients to “reveal something they would never mention while in the hospital”30,31 that might help tailor better care to their patients.

Patients reported that HaH allowed them to be closer to their family24,32. Recuperating at home was “easier for my family to visit,”24 and couples emphasized the importance of being together at home32. Similarly, caregivers agreed that HaH provided relief to their loved ones who depended heavily on their support32.

Some HaH focused on care continuity during and beyond the intervention itself. For these programs, healthcare professionals noted that they helped to integrate acute care into long-term care management strategies27,30,31. Caregivers commented that HaH was “the best hospital experience because there seems to be aftercare.”27 Healthcare professionals were able to provide patient education that was helpful in the long run, such as advising patients on how to cope with their disease by using their home environment to their advantage31, and providing adequate medication reconciliation for them30. Having patients undergoing treatment at home also releases hospital beds to others who need more acute care28.

Challenges of HaH

This theme captured the challenges faced by HaH stakeholders. The subthemes were as follows: (1) lack of round-the-clock patient supervision compared to the hospital; (2) increased caregiver burden; (3) unclear and underdeveloped workflows; (4) difficulty in screening, identifying, and recruiting HaH patients; (5) increased staff burden.

All stakeholders recognized safety as a priority for HaH. Some healthcare professionals and caregivers expressed that HaH lacked the 24-h physical care provided in the hospital27,28. This was more prominent for caregivers who did not live with the patients as provision of care was “difficult from a distance.”27 Remote care also made some patients “rigid with nerves” especially at night when they felt most “alone.”29,32 This sense of vulnerability was often expressed by COPD patients who were afraid of “being alone at night when I am breathless,”29 or for patients with renal diseases who feared blood loss during home hemodialysis. Lastly, mothers with acute severe mental illnesses from the included studies were mostly overwhelmed with managing distress at home and parenting responsibilities. Hence, they preferred the 24-h care provided in the hospital26.

While a few caregivers acknowledged that HaH freed time “spent in the hospital visiting” to “rest at home,”32 the transfer of care responsibility from hospital to caregivers was burdensome to some1,12,24,26,27,28. Those who experienced caregiver burden felt that there was a strong reliance on them to facilitate HaH. They were often tasked with coordinating care, standing by for eventual emergencies, or providing assistance during home treatment. This is especially so for caregivers caring for demented27 or mentally ill patients26. Caregivers reported the need to help coordinate care between healthcare professionals and the patients as “a multifunction maid.”1 Particularly at night, caregivers were reportedly “sleeping with one eye open” to provide 24-h support27 or had their “imagination runs riot” when their confused patients “tried to get out the window,” demonstrating difficulties for the family to contain the risk at home for acutely sick patients27. Moreover, some caregivers had full-time jobs and household chores1. Children of mentally ill patients were reportedly swamped with “emotional responsibilities.” Seeing patients sick all the time was a “horrible” or “frightening” experience for others1,24,26. Despite the transfer of care responsibility from hospital to caregivers, not all HaH have in place efforts to recognize caregiver stress, leaving some caregivers burnt out during HaH. Furthermore, the decision for HaH was often determined by the healthcare professionals and patient’s preference, and less influenced by caregivers or family decisions (agreement among several family members).

For many healthcare professionals and administrators, HaH was operationally challenging. Firstly, since HaH function beyond the hospital’s walls, it was difficult to capture activity within the current payment system24, and there was no system in billing patient care as a bundle or single “acute episodes.”12 Absence of a proper billing system created difficulty for organizations to assess cost and cost savings for each case, and deters insurer from covering such services12. Secondly, technology was not well integrated into HaH. While proper documentation was important in a multidisciplinary service, some organizations’ electronic health records were not nimble enough to sync, record real-time, or integrate among the different care units12,24,30. Furthermore, limited studies mentioned the use of remote monitoring system or teleconsultations in HaH. For those which did22,30, the use of a remote monitoring system was physically disruptive to users’ daily lives22, and teleconsultations yielded “technical problems.”30 Patients requiring complex medical equipment such as home hemodialysis for HaH also tend to encounter difficulties with the equipment at home. Furthermore, HaH workflows were sometimes confusing12,20. Healthcare professionals were unsure of HaH entry and exit points, and had problems identifying their clinical roles in HaH20. Healthcare professionals noted that some clinicians lacked certain skills to care for patients at home12,20,28. For example, not all clinicians could perform infusion or had sufficient experience caring for certain groups of patients, which may have hindered access to delivering timely treatment at homes12,28.

Screening, identifying, and recruiting suitable HaH patients were also challenging. Healthcare professionals felt that this process was tedious and time-consuming12,20,30. In addition to assessing patients’ conditions and their ability to self-care, they had to liaise with caregivers and assess patients’ living conditions before enrolment12,20,30. Furthermore, recruitment was limited. Although the concept of HaH is not a novel intervention, some healthcare professionals, patients, and their caregivers have reservations about the implementation of HaH since acute care is traditionally provided in the hospitals12,24,28. The reservations included perceiving the service as a means to “get you out” from the hospital to obtain “empty beds.”27,28

Some healthcare professionals reported an increase in burden to deliver hospital care to the home1,21,28,30. They found the work to be “demanding” as they had to coordinate care, plan their travel time to ensure patients received prompt treatment21,30, and adjust to the changing workflows of new HaH programs30. High staff turnover rates were reported1,28; organizations that did not address the high turnover rates caused the remaining healthcare professionals to work with “very few sick leave.”30

Enablers for HaH Development

There were four subthemes that characterized enablers of effective HaH: (1) clinicians with strong clinical and communication skills; (2) importance of maintaining quality of care while receiving treatment at home; (3) supportive operational, regulatory, and legal frameworks to promote care delivery in the home setting; and (4) integration with post-discharge care.

Healthcare professionals reported that HaH team should have strong clinical and communication skills. Firstly, competence in clinical skills is important since they have to make clinical decisions independently30. As HaH relies on remote monitoring, they should also hone their technical skills to operate such technologies23. To ensure patients are safe at home, healthcare professionals must be well trained in patient and caregiver selection before HaH enrolment27. Secondly, healthcare professionals need to have effective communication skills to “collaborate” among colleagues, patients, and their family members, and communicate well to “show our respect” in patients’ homes30. Furthermore, administrators and healthcare professionals reported that teamwork and communication among multiple partners are essential12,20,21,23,28,30. For many, HaH was not well integrated to encourage “teamwork or cross-department specialist teams.”23 Timely provision of services and referrals are required to ensure the quality of care, that is, no communication delays or missing information, and a robust referral system12,28. Studies that reported proper communication among clinicians indicated that the clinicians had better HaH experiencs12,21,28,30.

It is important to maintain quality of care during HaH as well. This can be provided in the forms of providing assurance, maintaining proper communication, letting patients and their family members be actively engaged in patient recovery24,27,28,30,31,32, communicating treatment predictability32, ensuring 24-h telephone services24, daily visits24, and instilling confidence that help will be promptly given32. Patients and caregivers expressed confidence in HaH when HaH healthcare professionals were “well trained “and “caring.”31 Furthermore, patients wanted to be engaged in their recovery27,29,30,31 by being involved in their discharge planning27, treatment decisions during HaH27, learning more about their medications29, and “getting an explanation” on their diagnosis while being at home31.

While patient-centeredness care is at the forefront of HaH, the findings revealed that the healthcare system needs to be supported by laws and regulations to maintain staff’s safety and medical legal coverage as the care setting shifts to patients’ homes12,30. Some healthcare professionals revealed that a power shift between them and their patients was observed when provision of care moved from ward to home setting; this was perceived as a challenge for healthcare professionals’ safety since they were no longer just medical staff but were “a guest” invited to patients’ homes with their “permission.”30

Finally, post-discharge care integration was seen as a priority. Patients and caregivers favored having continuity of care during and beyond HaH. Caregivers wished to know how they could “change the condition” of their loved ones27, preferred having reviews by the same specialist29, and appreciated follow-ups after HaH care31. Patients and caregivers wanted to be a part of patient recovery and form a continuous relationship with an identified healthcare professional after their HaH experience27.

DISCUSSION

To our knowledge, this is the first qualitative systematic review that meta-synthesized the perspectives of HaH stakeholders. We were able to collectively bring together data from multiple disciplines and stakeholders from different countries. Our findings can be categorized into four key points: (1) the need to maintain sustained partnership and personal relationship among patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals; (2) importance of strengthening communication and collaboration among healthcare professionals; (3) structural change to the traditional care practice; and (4) financial reforms.

Before considering the key points, it is worth noting that HaH was favorable over hospital setting for majority of the participants with various conditions. However, we found that most patients with conditions that require more acute attention (dementia, mental illness, and COPD) or those requiring complex machineries (home hemodialysis) specifically had more challenges recuperating at home. Future studies could consider providing more healthcare professionals to cater to these patients to improve their HaH experience.

In general, across all HaH setting, our findings suggest that maintaining a sustained partnership and personal relationship between patients and healthcare professionals was an enabler of patient satisfaction. Patients reported higher satisfaction when they were included in shared decision-making, received clear communication from managing teams, and were provided patient education specific to their condition during their recovery. This is consistent with other studies which reported that patients’ involvement in their own care promoted patient empowerment, created long-term relationship with their healthcare professionals34, and increased patient satisfaction34,35,36. Our findings also suggest that patients with designated healthcare providers felt more satisfied than those who had rotating physicians and nurses during their recovery. Maintaining continuous relationship ensured patient-centered care as the same healthcare professionals would have information on the patients’ previous clinical history, and an understanding of patients’ preferences and needs for a tailored HaH experience37. This is especially so as care is delivered outside the vicinity of the hospital.

Furthermore, there is a need to maintain a sustained partnership between caregivers and healthcare providers. As with the HaH quantitative studies38,39, the caregiver experience varied among included studies. While some caregivers felt less burdened by HaH compared to the hospital setting, more were stressed from the transferred responsibility of care from hospital to home. Surprisingly, most HaH did not have in place efforts to recognize and mitigate caregiver stress. Despite caregivers playing large roles in HaH, the decision for HaH was often determined by healthcare professionals and patients’ preferences, and less influenced by them or other family members. Care decision which considered caregiver’s and other family members’ decisions resulted in higher caregiver satisfaction40. Another study reported that the likelihood of caregiver burden was the determining factor for patients’ decision on choosing either hospital or home care41. Given that caregiver burden remains a significant concern, family decisions and caregivers’ preferences should be considered when evaluating patients for HaH. When an agreement is made for HaH, there should be substantial efforts to ensure that caregivers are well supported during this process. Adoption of continuous remote vital signs monitoring technology to monitor patient safety and 24/7 access to healthcare providers may help to mitigate fear and anxiety, and provide support for caregivers42. Providing measures to alleviate caregiver burden can help ensure better partnership with healthcare professionals and improve patient care at home.

Secondly, communication and collaboration among healthcare professionals are essential in ensuring continuity of care, which is especially important as care shifts from hospital to home43. The use of technology is integral to facilitate communication and collaboration in the community setting, and ensure timely detection of complications at home44. As reported in the included studies, inter-professional collaboration, coordination, and communication were challenges commonly cited and many studies did not mention any integration of technology for HaH. Studies that integrated technology faced difficulties in syncing HaH patient records into electronic health records12,24, the lack of user-friendly remote vital signs monitoring22, and technical problems with virtual physician visits30. These findings corroborate findings from other studies where technologies assisting care at home are still not optimal45. Hence, organizations need to improve technological advancement through policies that enable access to medical records across inter-departments or develop shared access to electronic health records that would allow ease of communication and collaboration among healthcare professionals, patients, and their family members46,47. Future HaH should also consider incorporating and evaluating the effectiveness of remote vital signs monitoring and virtual physician visits to improve technology integration in HaH. Strong communication and collaboration are the building blocks for improving access to care in the community setting44, and better integration of technological advancements can help greatly in this aspect48.

Thirdly, as care shifts to home, there is a need for structural changes to the traditional care practice, and a need to reorganize care delivery44. However, as noted from the included studies, the structural changes were challenging. Some highlighted that the HaH team lacked in skills and were uncertain of their roles and responsibilities in HaH. This may have been contributed by the heterogeneity of HaH which admits a broad range of patients with orthopedic conditions to urinary tract infection, thus making it challenging for patients to be matched with the right healthcare professionals49. HaH which engaged with community care services (e.g., general practitioners and community nurses) observed that some healthcare professionals did not have the skills to care for acute patients. Hence, substantial clinical training is required to ensure that healthcare professionals are fully equipped to manage acute patient care at home, and policies which ensure clear roles and responsibilities have to be developed23,50. The demands and challenges of structural changes may have resulted in high staff turnover rates as reported in some included studies; this disrupted HaH workflow and affected patients’ continuity of care28. Policy reforms are needed to ensure that ethical and legal standards in HaH care are clear51 and that there are measures in place to ensure healthcare professionals are protected outside of the hospital environment.52. This can be further mitigated by having recruitment and retention practices that can minimize burnout and reduce staff turnover rate53.

Lastly, payment models and payment system are not well established in HaH54 and vary between settings and countries. Many such schemes lack robust payment models that capture activity within the payment system and there are barriers to create a single unified billing and payment mechanism. The recent announcement by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which provides broad regulatory flexibility for HaH due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is a great enabler for HaH in the USA55. Such regulatory and healthcare financing reforms56 are critical for any healthcare system to comprehensively develop HaH.57

LIMITATIONS OF REVIEW

This qualitative system review has a few limitations. Firstly, majority of the articles included in this review were mainly from Western regions (Europe, the USA, and Australia) with robust healthcare systems. Hence, findings may not be representative of those in other countries and cultures. Secondly, this qualitative review heterogeneously examined a diverse set of stakeholders’ perspectives (e.g., healthcare professionals, administrators, patients, and caregivers) of HaH in different contexts (e.g., cancer, cardiovascular, or orthopedic units) that may not represent discipline- or disease-specific needs of the stakeholders. Thirdly, most HaH models were early discharge or unspecified, with limited studies evaluating the effectiveness of admission avoidance.

IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH AND PRACTICE

Our findings on the key enablers and challenges of HaH may help to improve HaH.

This review included HaH treating a variety of patient conditions. While HaH is favorable over hospital setting for the majority of participants with various conditions, we found that most patients with conditions that required more acute attention (e.g., those with dementia, mental illness, or COPD), or those requiring complex care (e.g., home hemodialysis), had more challenges recuperating at home. Future studies can consider more interventions to improve HaH experiences for such patients.

Overall, HaH practice varied based on availability of resources in each country as well as ethnicity, beliefs, and family culture. Future research could explore whether views toward HaH differ in different cultural contexts (e.g., Asian cultures, multiracial populations) availability of resources (e.g., lower- and middle-income counties), and HaH models (e.g., early discharge versus admission avoidance).

Forging partnership and personal relationship between patient and healthcare professionals is important in HaH. To improve patient satisfaction, these programs should continue to focus on patient-centeredness and individualization of care. This can be achieved through shared decision-making, clear communication from managing teams, and provision of specific patient education based on each patient’s condition during their recovery. To maintain partnership with caregivers, healthcare professionals should include both caregivers and family members rather than just the patient in the decision process. Considering the heavy reliance on caregivers, there should also be strategies to mitigate caregiver burnout.

There should be recruitment and retention measures to support healthcare professionals to minimize burnout and high staff turnover rate. Measures should be in place to reduce the risk of medico-legal matters and ensure both healthcare professionals and patients are protected throughout the HaH journey.

From a policy standpoint, further technological integration and advancement are essential to allow collaboration among healthcare providers to facilitate care at home. Finally, payment reforms are needed to adequately include HaH for reimbursement and insurance coverage.

CONCLUSION

In this review, we gained a deeper understanding of the HaH experience of different stakeholders. This review highlighted patient-centeredness as the key benefit of such programs and highlighted key operational and policy considerations in developing and improving HaH. Considering these factors, the intentional shift of acute care from hospital to home could address modern healthcare challenges of rising healthcare cost and limited hospital capacity, especially in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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Acknowledgements

A Ministry of Health Office for Healthcare Transformation (MOHT) employee was involved in the review as a research collaborator. He provided input in the design of the review as well as the writing of this paper in his capacity as an associate with Alexandra Hospital, National University Health System, Singapore.

Funding

This research was funded by the MOHT to support the pre-pilot research for Hospital-at-Home Program in the National University Health System in Singapore. The funder declared no commercial interest in this review and played no role in the design, analysis, interpretation of this qualitative data, or the writing of this paper.

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Chua, C.M.S., Ko, S.Q., Lai, Y.F. et al. Perceptions of Hospital-at-Home Among Stakeholders: a Meta-synthesis. J GEN INTERN MED 37, 637–650 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-021-07065-0

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KEY WORDS

  • hospital-at-home
  • healthcare professionals
  • healthcare administrators
  • patients
  • caregivers
  • perceptions
  • experience