The COVID-19 crisis is rapidly reshaping the needs and burdens of our national health system. Not only are the number of confirmed cases rising exponentially, but because of that influx of patients, hospitals are changing the way they intake, care for and discharge patients.
As a result, hospitals are more inclined to discharge non-COVID patients more quickly. These patients have a greater need than ever for home-based care, creating an urgent opportunity for home care and home health operators.
In this new normal, home-based care agencies can fill these gaps in service by doing what they’ve always done: provide the best at-home care services for vulnerable populations.
“Home-based care operators need to help consumers see that, ‘We’re still in business, and we’re here to help, and this is what we do well: we take care of you in your home,’” says Melynda Lee, director of growth solutions consulting at Hamden, Connecticut-based Simione Healthcare Consultants.
Here are five steps Lee says home care and home health agencies can take to lead during COVID-19.
Think creatively about your employees
The new coronavirus has changed one of the most basic processes of home care: sales and marketing. Hospitals and skilled nursing facilities are enacting social distancing and other precautions that restrict or deny visitors.
That means the time that sales and marketing professionals spent making visits to potential clients has changed. Employees are working remotely and don’t have to travel, thus giving them more time to be used in other ways, including messaging efforts that help referral sources realize that home care is part of the solution to their new challenges.
“Referral sources are going to be very busy,” Lee says. “Our biggest challenge is getting the referral sources and the consumers to think in those terms: to think of how we can be their resource.”
Use your internal data to identify new prospects
There are two main opportunities for new contacts. The first are patients who are discharged sooner than they would normally be.
The second are seniors who might otherwise enter an acute-care setting, but cannot because of unavailability of beds due to COVID-19 protocols. This includes people who might already be on the radar: the “Not Taken Under Care” people, or NTUCs — patients for whom you had a referral, and for some reason, were not taken into care.
“Look at your NTUCs — that need likely has not changed,” Lee says. “Right now, those are the most vulnerable people in our communities. Let’s make sure we’re offering interventions and engagements, because those are the people we really need to be following and helping.”
Agencies will be wise to review those “dropped referrals” (unserved patients) weekly, and even daily, as COVID-19 cases increase, and follow up with referral partners, patients and families. Hospice providers should consider their live discharges, as those are now the most vulnerable members of the broader care community.
“The population’s been told to stay home, so we have all of these vulnerable patients, former patients, seniors, people with chronic conditions, who don’t know what to do and where to turn,” she says. Home care must fill those needs.
Get your media strategy on a full-court press
One of the biggest marketing challenges today is making sure that referral sources and consumers are thinking about home care in new ways, or with new urgency. Lee notes that there are many avenues for home-care providers to connect with referral sources and their broader communities.
— Engaging local media, such as local NPR affiliates. “Everyone is looking for local information, as well as feel-good COVID stories,” Lee says. “And we are teeming with subject matter experts in our agencies.”
— Social media
— Video content
“If you don’t have a blog, now’s a great time to start one,” she says. “This will draw the attention of referral sources as well as consumers to the fact that we are a resource, and we’re also part of our community. We’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder. We’re here to help you.”
Be a resource for emerging community needs
As the crisis continues, new community needs will arise. Home-based care agencies can help by thinking creatively about the resources and services they offer and applying them in new ways.
One emerging need is emotional.
“If you’re a hospice and you have grief counselors and social workers, have them talking to your community virtually,” Lee says. “And offer that to your referral sources.”
Plug in with national and state resources
The COVID-19 crisis is affecting everyone in the U.S., yet on different timelines. Home-based care providers should look nationally at trends, and then apply those lessons locally.
“We’re talking with health care professionals on the West Coast to learn what they’ve been through, and then asking, how do we help them now and bring some of those lessons to the rest of the country?” Lee says.
Owners and operators will want to remain in even closer contact with industry organizations such as NAHC (National Association for Home Care & Hospice) and NHPCO (National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization).
“Every provider needs to stay connected with national associations, as well as at a state level,” Lee says. “That’s as simple as a daily look on their home page or signing up for email updates.”
With all this work, make sure your infrastructure is in place, because the business of home care might well get much busier.
“When you start bringing in these referrals,” Lee says, “you’d better be ready.”
To learn how Simione can help you implement these strategies, and support you during this time, please visit us at Simione.com or call 844-293-1530.