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Hospice providers are accustomed to unpredictable and challenging work, but no one was prepared for the curveballs of 2020. Like most businesses, hospice organizations have struggled with significant logistical and financial challenges, especially early on in the pandemic. But the health crisis has also given hospice and home healthcare opportunities to adopt new technology — and created new avenues for businesses to grow.
Brandy Sparkman-Beierle, senior vice president of tech-enabled services at Homecare Homebase (HCHB), says the pandemic’s silver lining for hospice care is the newfound appreciation for flexible, patient-centric care delivery, including in-home hospice care and end-of-life services.
“Above all, this global pandemic has demonstrated the need for robust end-of life-care,” she explains. “Ensuring appropriate staffing levels, providing emotional and physical support of clinicians, securing access to critical supplies, creating forward-thinking hospice/palliative care programs and technology, and implementing policies that support caring for the sick at end of life are at the forefront more than ever before.”
As the leading electronic health record (EHR) solution for hospice and home care agencies, HCHB has spent the year helping clients cope with the pandemic and, more importantly, prepare for the post-COVID future.
The impact of COVID-19 on hospice
Hospice care has faced sudden, unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19 — including facility lockdowns and personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages that limited care providers’ access to patients; a decrease in referrals; and inflexible reimbursement rules that prevent hospices and home health agencies from getting paid for virtual visits with Medicaid and Medicare patients. As a result, two-thirds of hospices expect a decrease in annual revenue in 2020, while 80 percent expect their operating costs to increase, according to the National Association for Home Care & Hospice’s (NAHC) Hospice COVID-19 Impact Survey.
HCHB responded quickly to help hospices manage COVID-related challenges and take advantage of new revenue-generating opportunities — namely, the rapid growth in remote patient monitoring (RPM).
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“Our customers were rapidly acquiring telemedicine and remote monitoring technology, so we shifted our interoperability team to focus on new integrations,” says Neal Reizer, senior vice president of product management for HCHB. “We didn’t really have to make any material application changes to our software in support of COVID-19, because there are so many out-of-the-box capabilities in the platform that we were able to leverage very quickly. Within four weeks, we released dashboards that allow agencies to identify and locate COVID patients, along with CDC screening guidelines and COVID-19 care plans.”
An evolving solution for an evolving industry
More than 100,000 home health and hospice caregivers use the HCHB solution to care for their patients. A mobile app–based platform, HCHB has hundreds of customers representing thousands of industry branches that are caring for more than 700,000 patients a day, including hospice patients living at home or in long-term care facilities, and those being treated at inpatient hospice facilities. And almost all of that HCHB documentation is done using Samsung Galaxy tablets.
“One of the great things about HCHB and Samsung together is the ease of use of both the tablet and the software,” says Sparkman-Beierle. “It’s important to Homecare Homebase that we deliver exceptional care to our patients and an exceptional experience to the users in the field, and the Samsung tablets help us do that.”
Whether hospice workers are treating inpatients or visiting people at home, caregivers use the tablets to access information, document care and communicate with colleagues and patients. The solution delivers real-time data and tools for expert around-the-clock care, with a person-centered care plan that makes it easy for nurses, therapists, patients, families and other caregivers to have informed, real-time group meetings focused on the patient’s individual needs.
“Since 2005, we’ve deployed and refined our specialized hospice software,” says Sparkman-Beierle. “Today, eight of the country’s top 10 agencies use HCHB. By automating workflows for everything from scheduling to IDG, from billing to bereavement and volunteer management, we give caregivers the most important resource of all — more quality time with patients and families.”
It can also free up hospices’ resources so they can explore new lines of business (namely, palliative care) and even new business partners (e.g., home health agencies).
“Over the last few years, many home care providers looked into expanding into hospice services,” says Sparkman-Beierle. “During the pandemic, the need for palliative care has increased in awareness, raising the importance of end-of-life care within the care continuum. We expect to see additional growth in palliative service lines for hospice agencies.”
As hospice and home care agencies continue to grow, evolve and often merge, HCHB continues to adapt its solution to agencies’ changing needs. Much of this innovation comes from strategic partnerships and integrations — for example, with Muse Healthcare of St. Paul, Minnesota.
“Our exclusive product partnership with Muse gives HCHB customers a sophisticated predictive modeling interface to better forecast, prepare and provide for hospice patients. This integration helps agencies enhance hospice care during the most critical time of a patient’s care journey — the last seven to 12 days of life,” explains Sparkman-Beierle. ” Our partnership helps providers allocate resources to the right patient at the right time when they need it most. It addresses a well-documented gap in end-of-life care to help ensure every patient transitions with dignity, comfort and attention.”
Flexibility required for future hospice success
For hospice organizations and home health agencies, flexibility is both a competitive advantage and a requirement. Reizer says that while the need for flexible, value-based care is driving greater demand for home health and hospice services, agencies also need to be flexible in how they approach digital transformation.
“When you’re switching EHRs, the tendency is to say, ‘Here are all my processes, here are all my practices. I’m going to switch EHRs and just get better, because the technology is the problem,'” explains Reizer. “But Homecare Homebase isn’t just software; it’s an operating model about how you schedule, how you staff, how you manage workflow through the organization, when you escalate work to make sure it gets done timely, how you ensure the quality and consistency of the documentation in the home and how you use the software to provide guidance and appropriate enforcement along that continuum.”
Reizer says his best advice for new customers is this: Don’t fight the product or the operating model.
“If you look at HCHB customers and say, ‘Wow, I want to be like them. I want the highest star ratings in the industry. I want the highest margins in the industry. I want the lowest cost per visits with the highest clinical outcomes in the industry,’ then don’t come in and say, ‘I don’t want to change my practices and processes,'” says Reizer. “We’re not just selling software; we’re sharing best practices.”
Those best practices are just as valuable as the software, says Reizer, especially in the fast-paced, hypercompetitive era of COVID-19. The pandemic has fueled digital transformation for hospice agencies that were lagging behind. It has also shone a spotlight on the barriers that have slowed innovation in the industry and fast-tracked solutions to those problems — with new technology, new business models and — hopefully — soon new federal legislation. And in this challenging environment that’s ripe with opportunity, flexible hospice organizations with best-in-class technology will lead the way to the more inclusive future of end-of-life care.
To learn about RPM — including how it works, how it benefits healthcare providers and how you can get started — download Samsung’s latest free guide. And make sure you’re up to date on the EVV compliance rules in your state.