Hospital Impact—How to create value in a rapidly evolving healthcare marketplace

Although home healthcare has been a valuable component of our nation’s healthcare system for decades, we’ve never experienced as many possibilities for expansion, innovation and opportunity as we do today.

An increasing number of baby boomers require care, and a growing number of Americans prefer to receive skilled, quality care in their homes. At the same time, payers—especially Medicare—are focusing on payment reforms that reward efficiency and quality. This has allowed providers to innovate by engaging in strategic partnerships across care settings to improve the patient experience and drive more positive outcomes.

RELATED: Study: Communication gaps between hospitals, home healthcare put patients at risk

Payers have also recognized the value of healthcare delivery in lower-cost, patient-preferred settings, and are making systemic changes to address shifting demographics and the demands of Medicare beneficiaries.

No doubt, evolution in our nation’s healthcare systems are creating exciting new opportunities—as well as significant new challenges.

Adapting to the next generation of healthcare is no easy, overnight task. Rather, to fully capture the benefit afforded by these new opportunities and overcome the headaches that can accompany them, providers must consider what the future of home healthcare may look like. We must identify ways to adapt to a rapidly changing environment so that we’re prepared to meet growing patient needs, operate efficiently in an evolving healthcare system and deliver high-quality care to achieve optimal outcomes.

In the field of home health, we’ve seen these trends unfold from the front lines. By getting and staying ahead of the curve, and by making investments in areas that count, we are creating better value and a richer patient and family experience for everyone.  

LHC Group has achieved that success in several ways—among them, forming strategic partnerships with hospitals and health systems, and cutting administrative expenses to focus more resources on direct patient care. We also develop and use advanced proprietary technologies that track patient needs and health outcomes to ensure quality care and patient satisfaction. Investing in innovation and infrastructural improvements now will pay dividends in the future in this rapidly changing market.

Joint ventures with hospitals and health systems

Engaging with hospitals and health systems through joint ventures has produced proven, measurable results that create an enhanced value proposition. Historically, most hospitals have not prioritized home health since it’s generally a smaller part of their operations. However, in recent years, home health has become a much more emphasized aspect of hospitals’ strategic planning. With this recognition of the value of home health, many hospitals are seeking to form strategic partnerships with experienced post-acute care providers, and by doing so, they can focus on what they do best, benefiting patients and payers in the long run.

Collaborative relationships make it easier to coordinate and streamline care since there is already a provider-to-provider relationship in place. Forming an Accountable Care Organization, for example, or participating in a bundled payment demonstration—where responsibility for patient outcomes is shared among multiple providers—becomes much easier when you have an established clinical collaborative relationship between the parties. This collaboration helps the hospital and the home health agency better serve their patients needing home healthcare, resulting in a better patience experience and improved outcomes. 

RELATED: Move over, hospitals and health systems—home is where the care is

Furthermore, an arrangement that allows a provider to take on patients directly after they are discharged from the hospital gives staff the ability to better anticipate individual patient needs. It provides a smoother transition to home and a more direct patient pathway, which is better for both the patient and their insurer.

But to appropriately manage the care transition, the acute and post-acute partnership must be built on trust, transparency and alignment of objectives. This includes sharing of data and collaboration between the clinical and operational teams. This allows both parties to work together with a singular goal to deliver the best value and outcome for the patient.

For example, by building on the principles above and developing a collaborative care transition program with one of our large hospital system partners, we reduced acute length-of-stay from three days to 1.48 days, and skilled nursing facility utilization dropped from approximately 32% to 9% for lower extremity joint replacement. Working together, we accomplished this while achieving patient outcomes that exceeded the national average.

Investment in technology to drive quality outcomes

While we talk a lot about how healthcare organizations need to prioritize “quality,” we often don’t have enough discussion about what must be done to achieve and maintain that quality care. Not only do patients have to be satisfied, payers do also. And with CMS’ newfound focus on tying payments to quality outcomes, it is now time for the home health industry to make the investments needed to ensure outcomes continue to improve.

When pursuing improved outcomes, our actions must be based on something—that something is insight achieved from data. The understanding and consistent analysis of a constantly shifting stream of data will provide insight into how an individual patient’s care needs change so that we can align our actions to achieve the best outcome.

A commitment to robust investment in proprietary technology allows home health staff to constantly track outcomes—and deliver high-quality care in real time.

Here’s one example: To better serve patients living with chronic conditions, we developed the Carelink call system to enable constant contact with clinical staff. This proprietary technology platform allows patients to call a clinician directly to ask questions about specific chronic condition care needs, including hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—some of the most common disease states seen in the home health patient population.

The program has been a success, and in the last 15 months alone, the system has recorded more than 400,000 completed calls from which we gathered vital information about patients’ health status and intervened promptly when needed.

An efficient and effective electronic medical record management system is also a must. It not only gives relevant data feedback to clinicians, it also allows them real-time access to critical patient information. And because everything is stored in a master data warehouse, it’s easier to secure, distribute and, most importantly, a benchmark for quality and outcome measurement.

Keith G. Myers is chairman and CEO of LHC Group, a leading post-acute care partner for hospitals, physicians and families nationwide—and co-founder and chairman of the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare—an industry trade coalition established in 2010 to work in partnership with government officials to ensure access to quality home healthcare services for all Americans.