Florida Agency Leverages Technology Investment to Stay Ahead of Competitors
by Liz Seegert
Monday, February 25, 2013
Reprinted with permission from the Homecare Technology Report, all rights reserved.
A strategic commitment to technology is making Senior Home Care, Inc. a leading player in the Sunshine State. They are the first Florida home care agency to join that state's health information exchange, a network of 22 providers that seamlessly share patient information – extending the continuum of care and lowering costs for payers. The Clearwater-based company operates 46 locations throughout Florida and Louisiana.
"Our world is changing and we need to change with it," said CEO Robert Fusco. "That's why we decided to invest $5 million in just the past year alone in our tech infrastructure." In addition to purchasing new computer hardware and developing and testing new networking capabilities, the company also implemented Homecare Homebase as its EHR platform; it was rolled out through their entire network of 46 locations in a span of just six months.
"We moved quickly because we know when you make a change in technology out in the field, when you put point of care devices in the hands of clinicians, it's a bit of a distraction. Getting this done fast was to everyone's benefit."
Senior Home Care's patient base is 90 percent Medicare, the remaining are Medicare Advantage clients. What happens next with funding is anyone's guess. However, "we as a society can no longer afford to care for people in the manner we have been — the money isn't there to do it," Fusco said. He pointed to ongoing industry consolidation through formation of alliances throughout the marketplace, such as creation of accountable care organizations and hospital purchases of physician groups for greater control of the care process. "The glue that's going to hold all of this together is technology."
Lack of information when tracking patients led to higher costs and systems inefficiencies, he explained. "Exchanges allow information to pass seamlessly from provider to provider so they're aware of the status of every patient — especially those patients that have a lot of co-morbidities."
This is especially important when managing seniors on multiple medications. Medication reconciliation is critical for all providers, especially home care, Fusco said. "That's one reason we felt it was prudent to make that investment in technology, which gives us the capability of interfacing and being part of these exchanges, with the ability to access this data."
Senior Home Care's strategy currently gives them an edge over other home care companies, according to Fusco. "Many of the hospitals that we talk to, the large physician groups, are intrigued with the fact that we're there, capable of doing it today." Although there are no federal incentives offered to home health care agencies for technology investments, the company decided to move ahead with upgrades anyway.
"There's no reason to wait. We've developed programs over the last year or two specifically to keep patients out of the hospital. We have a care transitions program that is becoming — and will become — a standard of practice in the industry," he added. Easy systems integration via the Exchange provides added value to other partners.
Reimbursement issues continue
The disconnect between reimbursement and Medicare requirements are somewhat in conflict with the needs of the patient and the needs of the system. Many discharged patients may not meet strict CMS home care rules, yet would benefit from services that help avoid readmission.
"Nobody questions the fact that more home health care is needed, but you've got criteria which say that we can only serve homebound patients. That's a roadblock we need to work around," he said.
Senior Home Care's physician portal enables local clinicians to view and manage the status of any of their patients within the Exchange network. In the field, smartphones enable caregivers to tap into Senior Home Care's system for real time patient status. As health care continues its evolution, he foresees faster advancement and a more prominent role for technology. "Just the access to the information and understanding what's going on with the patient at any point in time is of enormous value."
Although other home care agencies will likely join Florida's Health Exchange at some point, right now Senior Home Care is the only one giving ACOs what they want – providers who can share information seamlessly between their hospitals, their physicians, and the home health agencies they use, manage costs, and drive patients to the least costly setting, the patient's home.
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©2012 by Rowan Consulting Associates, Inc., Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in Tim Rowan's Home Care Technology Report. homecaretechreport.com One copy may be printed for personal use; further reproduction by permission only. email@example.com