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Through the partnership, Medicare Advantage plan members in 24 Minnesota counties will gain access to Homeward's services, which include telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and in-home care.

By Anuja Vaidya

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Blue Cross MN) has entered into a new collaboration with Homeward, a hybrid care provider focusing on rural healthcare.

Blue Cross MN's Medicare Advantage members living in 24 Minnesota counties outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area will gain access to Homeward's virtual and in-person care services through the partnership.

Homeward, which launched last March with a $20 million investment from General Catalyst, aims to increase access to primary care and specialty services in rural America through a combination of community-based mobile care units, in-home remote patient monitoring (RPM), and telehealth. Homeward's model is focused on delivering proactive care, with clinicians using RPM to detect potential clinical issues, conducting home-based visits to diagnose and treat the patient, and then using virtual visits to conduct follow-ups.

Further, Homeward offers referrals and additional post-discharge support through partnerships with regional health systems and providers.

"Our agreement with Homeward is another important step for Blue Cross' nationally recognized Medicare Advantage plans," said Mark Steffen, MD, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, in the news release. "Blue Cross and Homeward will be working with local hospitals, clinics and care systems in each community to ensure that, together, we can work to solve one of the biggest challenges in the healthcare system today. We are excited for the opportunity to increase our support for populations and communities that are in need of more healthcare resources."

Homeward will offer the payer's Medicare Advantage members a full-risk value-based arrangement. This means that provider reimbursement is entirely tied to improving health outcomes and reducing the total cost of care, the press release notes.

The payer and hybrid care provider are working to identify eligible patients. They plan to expand the partnership to include additional Minnesota counties.

The new partnership comes about six months after Homeward partnered with Priority Health, a Michigan-based nonprofit health insurer. The payer's Medicare Advantage plan members in 14 Michigan counties gained access to Homeward's virtual and in-person care services through the collaboration.

As telehealth usage falls from pandemic highs, providers are increasingly interested in hybrid care models.

For instance, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts partnered with Carbon Health earlier this year to launch the Connective Care model, which combines in-person and virtual care, including remote patient monitoring, in a bid to enhance primary care.

The model leverages an application through which patients can share biometric data from connected devices, like blood pressure cuffs, and self-reported symptoms, like pain. The care team includes primary care physicians, mental health providers, and chronic care specialists, who connect with patients during and between clinic visits.

Further, research has shown that patients are satisfied with hybrid care. Last February, Mayo Clinic published results of a survey showing that a vast majority of patients reported satisfaction while receiving care at the health system's Hybrid Care Hotel.

Launched in July 2020, the Hybrid Care Hotel combines in-person monitoring of past surgical and procedural patients with 24-hour virtual telemonitoring in a hotel setting. Most survey respondents said they were comfortable and had their medical needs met at the hotel.

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