Continuing Education and Employee Training
For the benefit of everyone, don’t leave these items off your management checklist
by Mike McKillip

Providing continuing education and training programs to your employees ensures that you are meeting federal education requirements. From the top of the HME food chain to the bottom, there is an agency that requires you to have a continuing education and training program facilitated in your company. But mandates are not the only reason to offer continuing education and training to your employees. Having well-trained, knowledgeable employees helps owners distinguish themselves from the competition, and can help reduce turnover and, therefore, costs.

Adding to the regulatory and reimbursement challenges, home health agencies must continue to adapt to the data-driven industry in which they find themselves. In order to grow, it is essential for home health agencies to invest in technology that will collect, track and report large volumes of data to referral partners.

OIG, OSHA, Accreditation and OCR

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) states in the Federal Register that they have “identified seven fundamental elements applicable to an effective compliance program.” One of these elements is “conducting effective training and education,” which they further clarify is “…the development and implementation of regular, effective education and training for all affected employees.” The OIG also states that education and training programs should be detailed and comprehensive. Programs should cover specific billing procedures, sales and marketing practices and general areas of compliance.

While the OIG does not specify the exact means necessary to fulfill this mandate, they make it abundantly clear that HME providers are required to provide education. Enter the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). As the agency that protects employees from occupational hazards, is has a more focused approach as to what your employees should learn while on the job.

Infection control, emergency preparedness, safety in the workplace and even understanding the Globally Harmonized System (a system of labeling hazardous chemical products) are just a few topics OSHA would have you include in your employee training.

This narrows the scope of what government regulatory agencies require; however, your accreditation agency will have its own set of education requirements.

Accreditation is essential not only because of rules set by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), but also by the majority (if not all) of the private payer sources you work with. Plainly stated, accreditation tells customers you comply with a standard, have solid processes and meet specific requirements. Accreditation agencies have recently been looking for ethics and cultural diversity topics in addition to industry-specific topics. Your accreditation agency will be able to offer you details on what they are looking for when it comes to continuing education and training for your business.

Finally, The U.S. Department of Education, through the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), has recently announced “Phase 2 HIPAA Audits.” Now, in addition to educational requirements, you must be knowledgeable about and compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Up to this point, the focus has been on regulatory compliance.

Professional Credentialing

The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), the National Registry of Rehabilitation Technology Suppliers (NRRTS) and the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) all have specific guidelines for education that respiratory therapists (RTs) and assistive technology professionals (ATPs) must complete in order to maintain their licenses. Those professionals are a major part of the lifeblood of your business. Without their technical expertise and the benefit of their current license or credentials, your company would not be reimbursed for certain medical equipment. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your RTs and ATPs are educated with the most up-to-date information and meet the most recent requirements.

Set Yourself Apart

Successful businesses are successful because they realize employee education should not be instituted only because of regulatory mandates; continuing education and training programs set the business apart from their competition by having well-trained, knowledgeable employees. They also understand other components that can help their businesses thrive in today’s fiscal environment.

One of the hidden costs of doing business is the high turnover rate prevalent in our industry. One study showed it to be as high as 63 percent annually for home health care workers. The total turnover rate across all industries in the United States last year was only 15.7 percent. How do these numbers compare to your turnover rates?

A high turnover rate comes at a significant price to your bottom line. The tangible costs include hiring temporary workers, overtime, lowered productivity, as well as the costs associated with advertising, interviewing, hiring and training, etc. Experts estimate it costs about twice an employee’s salary to find and train a replacement. This does not take into account the intangible costs that affect your business, such as lower employee morale, a potentially unfocused workforce and watercooler conversations.

A Louis Harris poll reported that retention rates are two-thirds higher among companies that provide employees with training opportunities. Career development is considered the number one factor in getting employees to stay in their current jobs.

A continuing education and training program can help employees hone their skills and also help you to find and retain better, more qualified employees. Today’s Learning Management Systems (LMS), such as MED U and others, are more mobile, interactive and accessible than the books and lectures they replace. Now, education is just a few clicks away on your computer, tablet or mobile device. Below are some of the advantages of utilizing a continuing education and training program in your business.

Boost your employees’ confidence with new skills. Educating employees about their job duties and responsibilities, company policies and corporate culture is a great way to boost confidence and morale.

Unify your employees with a common goal. You may be surprised how competitive your employees can be when offered a prize for receiving the best test score on coursework, or being the first one to complete the task.

Provide employee development for difficult situations. Workers leave companies for various reasons, but they also get sick, take vacations and have accidents. Training and cross-training your employees gives them additional corporate familiarity and provides managers with the peace of mind that job responsibilities are covered in the event of a crisis.

Remember that education is mandatory in our industry, and if your employees are not being educated through your company, they may seek growth opportunities elsewhere.

Implementing an Education Program

Based on your individual needs and requirements, you will most likely have a mix of topics to offer—sales and customer service; reimbursement training or compliance; emergency preparedness, infection control or safety. Creating excitement within your staff is imperative to getting your educational program up and running. Let your employees know this program is for them to gain more knowledge, and to utilize that information to be more efficient and effective in their corporate role and to help them grow personally.

Digital technology allows people to take online classes when it best fits their schedules. A Learning Management System (LMS), such as MED U, The MED Group’s LMS, is just one of many online educational options. There are also Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). MOOCs are typically for individual students, and their activities are facilitated by the individual student. An LMS, on the other hand, ties in the entire company, making auditing, reporting and course selection easy. An LMS will save your compliance or human resource department time by not having to manually enter student information and coursework activity. Additionally, with a single point of contact from your company with your chosen LMS, a more efficient educational process is created. Industry associations also offer online courses, webcasts as educational opportunities and regional meetings for face-to-face networking.

There are many reasons you should facilitate a continuing education and training program in your company. The HME industry is undergoing a seismic shift in many areas that are beyond the control of the independent owner and operator. Providing education and training opportunities for your employees is in your hands, and can help empower everyone in the company to provide above and beyond customer service, and give them another reason to keep coming back to you for their HME and home health needs.