Communication technology in home health care is critical to consumer satisfaction, yet many providers remain behind the times — something all-too-obvious to their customers. In all other aspects of their lives, home-based care customers are accustomed to real-time communication with easy-to-use technology.
Yet when these same people are dealing with a home health agency, that experience is vastly different.
A July 2020 survey from Citus Health and Home Health Care News revealed that while 74% of home-based care providers hope that a deeper investment in technology will increase patient and family satisfaction, 44% of providers do not yet use a platform to directly engage these stakeholders, while only about a quarter of these agencies claimed to be “completely satisfied” with their current family engagement technology.
Home health patients and their families consider this a problem. After all, if people can get real-time updates on the pizza they’ve ordered or a package being delivered, they in turn believe they should get that same level of timely communication when they are receiving care in the home.
This difference between the experience these patients and family members have with communication tools in their daily lives compared to the experience they have with home health providers creates a significant communication gap.
“Unfortunately, home health and hospice industries are largely communicating with patients and caregivers through legacy methods such as phone and email,” says Rob Stoltz, Vice President of Business Development at Citus Health. “We haven’t kept up with the families that surround those patients, who are running their day-to-day lives using more modern technology.”
It is time for agencies to focus on improving the experience of patients and family caregivers through secure, real-time messaging, video chats, custom forms that conduct surveys and assessments, electronic signatures and other tools that expedite important communication and documentation — all flowing directly into the provider’s electronic health record (EHR). Here is a look at what that communication gap looks like for home health providers, and how they can close it.
COVID-19 exposes home health’s communication technology gap
Face-to-face meetings between home health agencies and patients and their caregivers are essential to giving people a positive experience during troubling times. COVID-19 has obviously limited those. Yet the pandemic did not create home health’s communication challenge, Stoltz says. It merely amplified it — for two reasons.
First, as people adjust to a socially distanced lifestyle, they are becoming more accustomed to virtual communications, and the real-time immediacy it comes with.
Second, face-to-face health meetings might diminish, but the needs that those meetings filled have not. These needs might be directly care-based — the telehealth component — but there are documentation needs, such as signing physician orders, or confirming delivery of durable medical equipment.
“Patients and family members want a solution that enables virtual communication, and once they find out how convenient that is, the demand grows,” Stoltz says. “This need for real-time communication will stick around well past COVID.”
Implementing a modern technology solution
Home health agencies now have many solutions at their disposal to address these communication challenges, meaning they can modernize their technology tools while consolidating others. These tools deliver a range of benefits, with different value and functions. Virtual visits and video chats bring a personalized, reassuring touch in between in-person visits. Electronic documentation tools improve logistical challenges by making it easier to capture signatures.
Secure text messaging, meanwhile, is ideal for real-time communications. As Stoltz notes, that capability now runs in both directions, from the provider to the caregiver and the caregiver to the provider.
“How are we responding to patients and family caregivers today? If the answer is that we’re playing phone tag, that’s not a great answer,” Stoltz says. “If families can reach out electronically and we can get them an immediate response, that’s incredibly valuable.”
Stoltz explains that for home health care providers, rather than employing several tools to address these needs, many are turning to Citus Health to deliver all of this in just one solution. Providers can accomplish all of their critical communication needs in one easy-to-use option, while empowering patients and caregivers to be more proactive in their care efforts.
Capturing best outcomes
Improving communication in all areas of the home health care engagement leads to a series of vital outcomes that providers want. Above all else, of course, are reduced hospitalizations, as home health agencies are able to address urgent patient needs immediately, before the family caregiver dials 911.
Consumer satisfaction also rises, since increased communication means that treatment happens faster for patients, as do modifications for that treatment. This leads to happier patients, happier caregivers and, ultimately, stronger ties to referral sources.
Consumers may also reward home health agencies that deliver real-time communication with a higher census and better reviews. In a striking result of the September 2020 report published by Citus Health and Porter Research, 80% of hospice family caregivers stated that they would select one hospice provider over another — and give that hospice higher ratings on the CAHPS hospice survey — based on whether that hospice enabled real-time communication via computer, tablet and smartphone.
While this was a hospice study, logic says that the same applies to home health agencies who depend on HHCAHPS scores to best position themselves for more referrals. For home health agencies, a high level of consumer satisfaction may also lead to a repeat customer down the road.
“It just makes sense from a patient and caregiver perspective, that if I as a family caregiver can interact quickly with my care team in real time, I’m going to give your agency higher satisfaction scores,” Stolz says. “And in the future if I need home health care, I’m going to remember how easy it was to work with you. In this way, the home health care consumer behaves like they do with every other consumer facing industry.”
To learn more about how Citus Health can help your company enhance its virtual care delivery, visit CitusHealth.com.