‘Innovators Will Succeed’: Why Home-Based Care Agencies Need to Start Adapting to the New Normal

Both during and after the COVID-19 crisis, success will favor the innovators.

Providers that can adjust their business operations accordingly and keep up with the sweeping regulatory changes will have a massive advantage moving forward. Conversely, those resistant to the new, post-coronavirus normal run the risk of being left behind.

“The easy prediction is that innovators will succeed,” Jeff Aaronson, consulting director at McBee Associates, said on a recent webinar hosted by home health technology partner Forcura. “Anytime we’ve had periods of time where there’s uncertainty, it’s those that innovate and those that come up with a new model that are successful.”

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Wayne, Pennsylvania-based McBee Associates is a health care services and consulting firm with roughly 400 employees who offer financial, operational and clinical help to health care providers across the continuum of care.

“Those that have figured out how to do more with less, how to deliver exceptional care with the possibility of less physical visits and [created] a back-office that’s more virtual will have the advantages,” Aaronson said.

Without a doubt, the new in-home care marketplace in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis will look very different from the start of 2020. Even if home-based care is more valued and appreciated by the rest of the health care world after the crisis subsides, providers will still need to individually address challenges in order to stand out.

There will be sicker patients, the ones who have abstained from receiving care due to risk of infection during the height of the coronavirus. There will also be new patients, those who no longer view nursing homes or hospitals as a viable option for receiving the care they need.

Providers need to be ready for that.

“[Providers] need to put all of those [right] mechanisms in place. They need to be creative,” Samantha Soulas, consulting manager at BlackTree Healthcare Consulting, said on the webinar. “They need to look at cost cutting. They need to look at having the right tools to manage their agency proactively and anticipate what’s coming, innovating so that they can handle those waves instead of reacting.”

King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based BlackTree Healthcare Consulting is a home health, hospice and skilled nursing agency consulting firm.

As new patients flood into the home-based care world, so will new providers. For example, similar to the environment during the 2008 financial crisis, there is likely to be more interest in being a home care franchisee.

But the other group of people buying into home-based care could be first-timers. Their advantage will be coming into the business confronting the “new normal” right off the bat, instead of drudging through all that it takes to change a home-based care business that has been doing things mostly the same way for a long time.

“If you plan for what the new normal is, your business plan will take into account these changes that are occurring — that’s what home health agencies need to do,” Aaronson said. “They need to build a new model or make changes to their current one. That [includes finding a way] to fit into this new [normal] of doing virtual visits — whether we’re going to get paid for it or not — and finding a way to improve the quality of care with less resources.”

A new normal will feature more virtual work, both in terms of visits and back-end operations. It will bring different and more kinds of patients, plus an even more competitive staffing environment.

If providers don’t adapt to the post-coronavirus world, they might soon find themselves overshadowed by emerging new players promising to disrupt the traditional home-based care model.

“We’re seeing other competing entities possibly wanting to come in and reinvent our wheel,” Cindy Campbell, the director of operational consulting for WellSky, said on the webinar. “[Home-based care providers] cannot be stuck in the mud or in the past. But we do have something to leverage. We have deep experience in this setting of the home.”

Overland Park, Kansas-based WellSky is a health and community care technology company that has a large footprint in the home-based care arena.

“How do we assertively take our place at the table within the health care continuum and leverage the experience we have? [How do we] not be afraid to move and innovate now, as it relates to virtual visits and remote monitoring telehealth protocol control?” Campbell said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of big bites to swallow relative to our own progress. But we have to be proactive people at the table of health care delivery, voicing the experience and depth of our skill set.”

As home-based care’s worth becomes further highlighted, agencies will need to meet a higher standard.

“The ones that are using technology to be more efficient and increase productivity are going to be the winners, no matter what it looks like when we get past the pandemic,” Aaaronson said.

In addition to innovating in terms of virtual visits and technology, home-based care agencies will also have to innovate in the staffing department.

It’s easy for an agency to commit to being more tech-driven, but frontline staff needs to be ushered into the process in a way that makes them feel comfortable. Agencies need to play a role in making sure their staff is confident with the adjustments being made.

“Supporting staff to build competence helps with retention tremendously,” Campbell said. “People leave our industry because they get fried. They haven’t been given the [right] tools, they’re documenting late at night, they’re getting beaten up for making mistakes. Build the right leadership perspective first … and then you’ll find that [staff] engagement goes up.”

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