by Chris Abel

According to U.S. Census data, 50 million Americans will be 65 or older by 2020; this will represent 17 percent of the entire population. By 2050, more than one-fifth of the country’s population will be 80 or older. As the senior population swells, government agencies—including Medicare and Medicaid—continue to push for cost-effective alternatives to assisted living facilities and nursing homes. In addition, increasing numbers of seniors strive to maintain their autonomy by insisting on aging in place. The home health care market is the answer—a way for seniors to live life on their own terms, without relying too heavily on health care resources or their immediate family members. As the demand for home health care providers continues to increase, the industry is faced with some core, trajectory-defining questions: How can we accommodate more patients without sacrificing the quality of care? How can we retain a competitive edge as more providers enter the market? How do we improve services and care, while still protecting profit margins? The answer to all of these questions, perhaps surprisingly, is technology.

Four reasons strategic technology guidance will dictate the future of home health care providers

Communication Requirements: The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) reports 63 percent of hospitals and 69 percent of health systems expect interoperability—the ability of health information systems to work together within and across organizational boundaries in order to advance the effective delivery of health care for individuals and communities. In the era of accountable care organizations and population health, home health care organizations must be ready to communicate and efficiently transfer information to primary care physicians, 
ER doctors and any other care team members who may come in contact 
with a patient.

Compliance: With each passing year, more health care regulations are passed down from CMS. From safeguarding personally identifiable information (PII) to complying with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), home health care organizations are subject to extensive regulations. An informed IT resource can help drive, shape and inform compliance efforts for home health organizations in order to prevent major (and costly) violations.

Telehealth: The health care landscape is always changing. Currently, there is a push for robust e-health and health information technology (HIT) capabilities that will improve the quality of patient care, care delivery models and an organization’s bottom line.

In looking at ways to address 
the increased demand without taxing current caregivers or tripling staff size, home health organizations are considering telehealth options such as remote caregiver access and remote sensing technologies that can monitor everything from the length of time a refrigerator door has been left open to the temperature and pressure on a bed, sofa or chair. Organizations are struggling with the decision to implement these technologies. How do we do it, and which technologies do we choose? How will this decision impact the bottom line? These are important questions that require advanced knowledge in the home care field in order to be answered.

Competitive Advantage: The growing senior population will significantly affect competition within the home health care industry. As more providers enter the market, established organizations need software and systems in place to help them streamline operations, maximize efficiency and productivity and improve revenue. A strategic IT resource with a firm grasp of industry best practices can help organizations gain market share and achieve significant competitive advantages.

A decade ago, The Home Care Technology Association of America (HCTAA)—an affiliate of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC)—was formed to advocate for the advancement of technology in home health care. They regularly discuss home care technology issues before Congress. Today, there are more than 33,000 home health and hospice agencies representing a significant component of the health care delivery system. These two indicators, combined with the health care industry’s continued emphasis on care coordination, suggest that technology will define and dictate the successes and failures within the home health care industry for at least the next decade.

A common question among home health care organizations is, “Should we hire internal IT support or an external IT support company?” The answer varies depending on organizational structure and needs, but one factor holds true—home health care organizations can no longer rely solely on a traditional IT expert. They need a resource who understands traditional IT, and who is also familiar with the home health industry and how technology can be used to support business goals in this burgeoning sector. Considering the home health care software market alone is forecasted to reach $6.4 billion by 2018, the right technology guidance is crucial to successfully navigate this unchartered terrain—and to leverage knowledge for competitive gains.