The homecare industry today is racing to meet the demands of an aging population that wants to stay at home to live out their golden years. The United States spent an estimated $122 billion on home health care in 2021, and that number is predicted to surpass $226 billion by 2030, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Ten thousand baby boomers in the U.S. turn 65 every day—and it’s projected there will be 88 million retired persons by 2050. Serving this population will require investment, staffing and public-private commitment. One of the main pillars in supporting this growing need is effective scheduling.
Scheduling is the lifeblood of any care organization. Agencies know providing consistent, fully allocated shift work to their most valuable assets—members of their care staff—is the path to retaining employees and growing their business to obtain profitability and success. With the volume of demand for homecare across multiple locations, manual scheduling and work allocation is no longer feasible or efficient. It is time for digital transformation.
What Goes Into Homecare Staffing & Scheduling
Manual shift planning and route mapping are highly time-consuming and inefficient—yet remain widespread practices today. There are some digital optimization tools available to help schedulers react when caregivers call in sick, drop or pick up shifts or new care requests come in, but they can be inflexible or lack features.
With the complexities of scheduling, agencies are becoming more convinced that implementing optimized algorithms to automate how they allocate shifts holds great benefit. Other digital pluses include automatically matched skills and credentials for each client’s specific needs and optimized geographic route mapping for home visits that organize the caregiver’s workday while saving gas.
Additionally, many caregivers today are free agents working for several care organizations, using technology on their phones and tablets to fill the days they wish to work with as many appointments as they can fit into their schedule. Agencies that can schedule their team in the most efficient way by leveraging technology ultimately
win caregiver satisfaction and word-of-mouth endorsement that helps recruitment and retention.
Schedule volatility or inconsistency in daily schedules has been a potential driver of turnover in homecare. With many home-based care agencies still managing caregiver schedules manually, they can end up with costly and inefficient schedules. The
paradox is that while there is a global staffing crisis for homecare workers, many of them still cannot fill their schedules due to inefficient, limited scheduling—so they leave the industry.
When caregivers are scheduled for their work week, they may have to deal with unnecessarily long driving routes, poor matches between their skills and client needs, inconsistent placements or a lack of available staff to fill vacant visits. Compounding these challenges, homecare schedulers are constantly having to rearrange shifts due to unforeseen changes caused by workers calling in sick, clients changing appointments, last-minute
added care treatments or issues with
Homecare providers are still burdened with finding solutions that allow them to recruit and retain staff to meet growing demand, support mental health and prevent caregiver fatigue and burnout—and also with looking for solutions that will help them scale and grow their business to meet the demands in their community.
Technology: Take the Wheel
We know inconsistent hours, poor scheduling and lag time between hiring and deploying a new caregiver can quickly jeopardize employee engagement. The reality in most agencies today is that if a caregiver does not quickly get assigned shifts and a reasonably full work week, they will simply go elsewhere. Therefore, the right technology tools and platform must be in place from the onboarding process to training and out-in-the-field app support—providing staff with all the digital tools that remove as many repetitive tasks as possible to keep your most valuable assets engaged.
These self-serve tools and mobile apps provide a proven solution to maximizing not only the agency’s operational efficiency, but also the caregiver’s ability to fill their work week, navigate to their appointments in a logical route and, most importantly, have more time to focus on providing care versus repetitive data entry tasks.
Making schedules that work for every caregiver is a complex and arduous task for coordinators. Technology is here to do the heavy lifting with algorithms that can quickly analyze structured and unstructured schedules and client data to correlate the best workday and week possible.
We can all rest assured that in the grand scheme of things, humans will not be removed from the scheduling loop. Presently, schedulers keep so much acquired knowledge in their collective personal memory—and these specifics rarely get codified into the scheduling system. This can be problematic for onboarding new schedulers. By methodically taking the time to enter such inside knowledge, onboarding new schedulers can happen faster, without having to be reliant on the original source of information (who has left the company, is out sick or is on vacation).
Ultimately, specific details in the data sets will grow to provide increasingly optimized decision support—for both new and seasoned schedulers to yield the best-matched schedule and routing for caregivers and clients.
By leveraging technology, we can streamline machine learning/artificial intelligence functions to automate repetitive tasks and free up schedulers to manage the more complex, relational scheduling problems. Technology can also help forecast and foresee scheduling conflicts and possible employee churn so they can act and adjust accordingly.
Homecare is a people-centric industry and finding and retaining care workers is critical to success. Recruitment and retention have become major challenges for home-based care operations. Solving this problem requires a multifaceted approach in which various pieces of the puzzle fit together to improve recruitment and reduce staff turnover. Automated schedule and route optimization is a proven force multiplier to help homecare agencies maximize the deployment of their limited workforce.
When evaluating a care worker’s geographic area, schedules and skills, we develop and rely on technology that can correlate the best way for them to maximize their hours and credentials to realize the compensation and schedules they desire. Technology and data can give both schedulers and business owners valuable insights, predictability and red flags for employee engagement or disengagement, and, most importantly, automatic alerts to the agency, family and physicians if a client’s health changes.
These types of tracking and predictive, preemptive tools help keep our loved ones from hospital re-admission or trips to the emergency room. Optimization algorithms allow care providers to move from manual guesswork full of repetitive tasks and inefficiencies providing streamlined care—allowing our patients and clients to stay at home for better outcomes.