In two short (but very long) years, the homecare industry has changed forever.
Traditionally, homecare was built on delivering high-quality services wherever clients call home. Almost without exception, these services were downstream within the care continuum, and were thus limited in scope. Then came COVID-19.
Suddenly, the pandemic’s at-home-first approach forced health care providers to collaborate with homecare agencies throughout the patient journey. Homecare agencies demonstrated remarkable value in helping clients get the right level of care at the right time. COVID-19 highlighted the common goals in health care, whether that was reducing fall risks, preventing readmissions or saving Medicare dollars. The wider health care industry took notice, and more providers across the continuum came to recognize homecare’s impact.
Now, at the start of 2022, homecare agencies face a fork in the road. Those who innovate and differentiate, building brand programs, partnerships and new initiatives, will thrive. The others, who continue to focus solely on companionship and basic self-care support, will lose out.
Will your agency thrive or struggle to survive in 2022 and beyond? In large part, it depends on the investment that you or a franchiser put into new programs and partnerships throughout the continuum of care. If you’re unsure of where you are, benchmark yourself against these four resolutions for 2022 and beyond.
1. Offer purposeful brand programs.
What is a brand program? It’s a carefully designed, targeted offering that elevates what you see in the industry and brings in components of skilled partner roles, such as risk assessment tools. Brand programs help you capture upstream opportunities, deliver better outcomes and prove your worth to partners across the continuum.
Preventative care is an area where homecare’s potential value is huge. For example, falls are a top driver of hospitalizations in the senior population, and spiral into other consequences including social and physical decline. A fall prevention program that is designed to include risk identification and assessment tools, home safety assessments and lifestyle modification recommendations belongs at the top of any future brand program list.
The industry also has a big role to play in addressing social isolation—a public health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, which is costly not just in dollars but in lives lost. A program designed around enjoyable activities for clients to rediscover or try for the first time is a remarkable differentiator for families and partners alike.
Consider palliative care and hospice care support, where homecare agencies have a unique opportunity to make a difference. Multiple chronic conditions account for two-thirds of the nation’s health care costs; in-home support promises significant cost savings. The industry is seeing payer sources recognizing palliative care as a benefit, with states putting palliative benefits forward at a federal level to recognize palliative care as a service line.
Finally, transitional care is an area where a purposeful program equips your agency to play a pivotal role. A transitional care program should be designed to minimize the risk of hospital and rehab readmissions when clients return home.
What other trends and issues do you see beyond your clients’ core needs? Think outside the box to incorporate revenue and client acquisition opportunities—and pay attention to health care trends at a government level, such as Medicare Advantage covering palliative care.
2. Invest in your team.
You might have the best brand programs out there, but you can’t deliver them without your caregivers on board. As you roll out your brand programs, make sure that your caregivers know they’re the front line of delivery. Without them, it’s all just noise.
You need to empower your caregivers to be your clients’ biggest advocates and cheerleaders. Let them know the long-term approach you’re taking—including how your programs will contribute to their effectiveness and job security. Don’t shy away from having this conversation with caregivers; doing that exacerbates the recruitment and retention problems that you know only too well.
Only by taking care of your care managers, administrative staff, and caregivers—the backbone of your agency—can you do what’s right by your clients. Treating staff as a commodity won’t fly next year, if it ever did.
In short, you can’t succeed without the right people in the right seat on the bus.
3. Invest in your referral partners.
Always look upstream to the issues that your referral sources and skilled partners recognize and how you might tackle them in the home. How can you translate the goals of your partners—the physical therapists, nursing staff and social workers—to the in-home space?
Sometimes homecare agencies are limited in what they can do, but you can still work to understand the challenges. It requires open communication and taking a position of partnership.
In 2022, successful agencies will move beyond simply selling the activities of daily living to focus more on the needs of referral partners and the issues they’re looking to solve. They’ll also educate partners on the value they bring, the common goals they share and how they can work as an extension of their team.
4. Capture data to drive partnerships.
Analytics allow referral partners to make confident strategic partnership decisions, and partners look to agencies to provide the data they need. As an industry, providers should continually capture data to prove value. Readmission rates, fall rates—capture and track them all.
Whatever operating software you use, aim to optimize it without taking any shortcuts. After all, it can only run the reports that demonstrate your proof of value if you enter the correct information into it. Let your care managers and team know that in capturing the data, they’re building opportunities for partnerships down
Develop a thirst for data capture and think of it the way your skilled partners do. It saves time and money in the long term. Why are clients using you? What brand programs do they like? Why are you getting referrals? Data provides the direction you’ll need next year and beyond—without it, you’re blindfolded in the middle of a freeway.
Looking Forward to 2022
As a homecare provider, 2022 is your year of opportunity. Health care systems are recognizing your value. You’re uniquely positioned to support better outcomes for clients in the comfort and familiarity of home. Here’s to more clients, to more growth and to having a greater impact on your community.