The home health care industry’s top concern as it entered 2020 was PDGM and other regulatory changes. Industry insiders predicted that the new payment models would lead to rapid consolidation and mergers. Nobody expected what really happened: a global pandemic that upended established business models, reshaped daily life and increased our reliance on technology.
The pandemic also established at home care as safer and more convenient than other healthcare alternatives. As a result, home health providers were overwhelmed with referrals. Unfortunately, this opportunity for growth came at a time when it was even more difficult to find and retain qualified caregivers. High turnover and labor shortages make it difficult for agencies to expand operations and can affect continuity of care.
More growth is expected this year, so it’s no surprise that staffing is the top concern of the more than 350 industry professionals who participated in the 2021 Home Health Care News Outlook Survey and Report.
Agencies Can Grow in 2021, but Staffing Is a Challenge
Survey respondents predicted that the two biggest growth areas in 2021 would be in skilled and non-skilled home health care. Those predictions match current trends: direct care home health worker employment levels increased by 145% between 2009 and 2019.
Greater provider and payor support for home health care represents an opportunity for HHAs to grow their operations – if they can meet the staffing levels required to support growth. This will continue to be a challenge as more of the current workforce retires. The state of Michigan, for example, could face a shortage of 200,000 direct care workers by 2026.
In recent years, agencies have struggled with low reimbursement rates and strict utilization limits. The COVID-19 pandemic helped change attitudes and highlight the value of home health care:
In a November survey of 76 health plan executives from CareCentrix and KRC Research, 97% of respondents said they believed more care at home is better for both their organizations and their members. A similarly high percentage said they believed treating members at home is more cost-effective than facility-based care.
As more private payors invest in home health care, “total cost of care” will become the most important metric for providers to track.
Greater utilization of home health care won’t reduce the pressure to control costs. Agencies will still need to innovate and leverage technology to meet provider and payor expectations.
Increase Staff Productivity and Satisfaction with Improved Home Health Technology
The pandemic dramatically changed the business models of many industries, including health care. For example, the CARES Act temporarily accelerated the use of telehealth in home health care. It allowed HHAs to conduct telehealth visits but didn’t authorize reimbursement for those visits or allow telehealth visits to count against the LUPA threshold.
Although there’s a lot of experimentation with new technologies like telehealth and remote monitoring, health care will always be people-driven. Agencies should consider investing in home health technologies that streamline operations, help caregivers provide better care, and increase patient satisfaction.
- Documentation and compliance: Look for intuitive software tools that help clinicians capture all details in real time. A documentation system that prompts users to provide all details required for regulatory compliance and outcomes measurement makes clinicians’ jobs easier and reduces duplicate paperwork.
- Planning and decision-making: Use real-time data and predictive analytics to improve workflows and assist clinicians with care planning and decision-making.
- Technology partnerships: No one company can do everything. Look for home health technology providers with a wide network of industry partners offering integrated platforms that assist clinicians with activities like wound care.
These types of home health technology tools help improve clinicians’ experience and boost morale. Who wouldn’t prefer to enter documentation electronically in real-time instead of spending hours at the end of a long day typing in handwritten notes? Updated technology also increases staff productivity and relieves some staffing pressures.