Engagement at home: How home healthcare organizations can improve patient and staff satisfaction
The pandemic turned every corner of the healthcare industry on its head. And while the Delta variant is ravaging hospitals and intensive care units around the country, pushing caregivers beyond their capacity, there’s a quieter evolution borne out of the pandemic elsewhere.
Home health organizations have also faced massive upheaval during the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, patients were scared to even enter hospitals for fear of contracting Covid-19, in many cases deferring routine appointments, screenings, and elective care. As we later learned, hospitals are among the safest places to receive care, although post-acute settings can carry significantly higher risks.
In fact, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and long-term care facilities have been identified as high-risk areas for virus transmission. More than a quarter of Covid-19-related deaths were being reported at group living and care facilities, with some states counting more than half their overall deaths at long-term or skilled nursing facilities.
For patients needing ongoing care either after discharge from an acute care facility or as a result of new or worsening medical conditions, the consensus was clear: they wanted to recover or be cared for at home. According to one survey, 72% of people would prefer to receive care at home after a major medical event. Meanwhile, 69% preferred to receive regular check-ins at home, and 63% preferred to receive care at home.
As a result, demand for home healthcare has never been higher. But like every other corner of the healthcare industry, there’s a yawning gap between the number of staff members available, and the number of staff members needed. In some parts of the country, waiting lists for home healthcare programs can be months—or even years—long.
And even amid staffing shortages and demand increases, home care patients have rising expectations—around the level and quality of care they receive in their home, around the caliber of the staff they welcome into their living spaces, and around the user experience at—and critically, between—visits.
Additionally, what home health gains in convenience and comfort, it can potentially lose in patient safety—but only if patients aren’t engaged in their own health and care.
For all of those reasons, home healthcare organizations are competing on a new playing field, and need new approaches to attract and retain patients, improve satisfaction scores, achieve better health outcomes, and ensure that patients are active participants in their own care.
So what does that look like in practice? There are a few key considerations:
A first step to making in-person, at-home interactions more effective, comes through ensuring patients are ready and caregivers are informed. When a patient is first discharged from a hospital or engages with a home health provider, they should receive calls from the home health service checking in on status, asking questions about their recovery, and, importantly, confirming the details of any initial home health visits.
So as to not add work for already overburdened home care professionals, these calls should be automated, although include capabilities to patch patients through to a live person if needed. This not only frees up time and resources for care teams, it enables seamless data collection to power analytics, uncover patterns, and identify areas for clinical and operational improvement.
Home health visits are dense by necessity. Care providers only have a finite of time with their patients to take vital signs, administer care, answer questions, implement therapies, evaluate status, and provide ongoing care recommendations. The amount of information exchanged over a short time period can be staggering, and it can be easy for patients to forget key information after caregivers leave.
Whereas in a hospital or post-acute care setting patients can get easy clarification and guidance on care plans, in a home setting, particularly for patients that are less engaged in their care, the risk can be higher. Beyond providing written care instructions that can be lost or misinterpreted, it’s key for caregivers to leave a digital record behind. One best practice is creating an easy-to-understand voice recording that patients can access as many times as they need to remind themselves of the details of their care plan.
Priority for those who need it most
With growing patient bases, home care agencies and organizations need to be able to quickly identify patients that are at higher risk for readmission or complications. It’s important that home health organizations be able to filter and organize patient populations by diagnosis and condition as well as engagement status to quickly reach out to the patients that need it most and ensure they are on the right track to recovery.
Finally, it’s about more than handing patients their care plans and instructions at the end of each home care appointment and walking out the door. It’s imperative that patients are followed up on within a day or two of each home care appointment. Automated calls or messages can gauge whether patients feel comfortable with their care plan, determine whether they have the medications, see if they have any questions, or even ensure patients have access to things like food and transportation.
A truly comprehensive approach to home care engagement goes beyond a better experience for patients. By freeing up resources and automating manual processes, home care organizations can better identify areas of risk, improve clinical and operational processes, improve staff well-being, and enhance outcomes for patients across the board.
In other words, they stand ready to meet the challenges of the ongoing pandemic—and a hopeful post-pandemic world—head on.
Photo: SDI Productions, Getty Images