Homecare, while still a young and evolving industry, has generally been on the periphery of the health care ecosystem. Perhaps as an attempt to differentiate the service from home health care, homecare often receives the disclaimer designation as a “nonmedical” home service.
While it’s true that this type of homecare is nonmedical in nature, there can be no doubt about the impact this kind of homecare has on the health, well-being and safety of patients. This impact has sparked the attention of the larger health care community as a valuable and critical link in the patient care continuum, and at the same time brought new challenges and expectations for the homecare industry.
The Care Continuum
Nonmedical in-home care represents a critical but historically sidelined player in the health care continuum. COVID-19 has certainly put a spotlight on the benefits of care at home, resulting in an increase in both routine and acute medical care providers flocking to the home as part of the new care environment. The home not only represents a less costly care environment, but also the least restrictive one promoting improved health outcomes. The challenge with more care at home is that many in-home care providers are in the home for brief procedural interventions and depart quickly. Homecare can offer longer stays with clients in their homes and thus serves as an ideal partner to home health and other medical providers to continue to address the health and safety of their patients.
Whether it is assisting a patient with hospital-to-home support that addresses personal needs such as bathing, dressing and mobility, or attending to various activities of daily living, homecare can ensure that the home remains a viable and safe place for recovery. Homecare can offer that link for transportation support to follow up on medical appointments, help prepare healthy and nutritious meals, provide medication reminders and promote patient safety through fall prevention. Having a caregiver who can address fall hazards and help with mobility around the home can not only prevent accidents but also help reduce hospital readmissions and emergency department visits. Remember, more than 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture, according to data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
The other issue that is far too often swept under the carpet is that the recovery process can be lonely. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that increased social isolation after an intensive care unit stay can increase the risk of disability and double the risk of death in older adults. Homecare can provide the companionship necessary to promote recovery and increase a patient’s sense of belonging.
5 Critical Steps to Position Homecare for the Future
The health care ecosystem will continue to evolve rapidly and there are steps that homecare providers can and should take now to position themselves for future success.
1. Diversify payer sources.
The demand for homecare is great, so why focus solely on private pay clients? As health plans and other third-party payers embrace the benefits of homecare, there are likely to be shifts in reimbursement for the service. By joining third-party networks now, you will not only better understand the contracting and credentialing process but also gain insights into negotiating rates, billing practices and modifications you may need to make to your office infrastructure for future success.
2. Market the benefit of homecare to health care providers.
Many hospitals and health plans are still learning about the benefits of homecare. Your marketing efforts should highlight the benefits of homecare to their patients’ recovery. What are their pain points that you can solve for?
3. Ensure HIPAA compliance.
There still remains some debate about whether or not nonmedical in-home care providers must be compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Regardless of that debate, health care providers and health plans will expect it. In order to join most payer networks, particularly those involving Medicare Advantage, demonstrating HIPAA compliance will be mandatory and it represents best practices.
4. Focus on outcomes.
It is no longer enough to say that your services make a difference in the lives of those you serve—it is increasingly expected that you can demonstrate it. Third-party payers are interested in how you improve outcomes for those you care for, such as if you are able to reduce incidents of falls and prevent hospital readmissions. Data collection of these and other outcomes has become a necessity.
5. Embrace coordination of care.
Because homecare providers spend more time with patients, they have greater insight into the whole health picture. Whether it’s tracking and reporting sleep patterns, appetite changes, adverse effects from medication or other developing health concerns, in-home caregivers can be an integral part of the continuum of care because of the amount of quality time spent with the patient.
The health care industry is moving into a state in which homecare will no longer be considered supplemental—nor will it be reserved just for those who can afford it. Homecare providers should actively position themselves not only as a vital component of ensuring the health and safety of those they care for, but at the center of the care plan. The industry is aligned with the growing demand for aging in place that will define Homecare 2.0.