How can home health agencies thrive in today’s changing (and increasingly challenging) market? In a post-COVID world with more health systems adopting value-based payment models, home health agencies (and post-acute care organizations of all kinds) must update their marketing strategies. Relationship marketing is important, but it’s not going to help providers, ACOs, and DCEs meet their benchmarks.
During Home Health Care News’ Virtual Sales First Summit, Trella’s Jonas Fortenberry sat down with Home Health Care News reporter Andrew Donlan to discuss the most efficient and effective growth strategies in today’s home health landscape. In their conversation, Fortenberry touched on a few key strategies and approaches to help home health agencies take advantage of available data to gain more referrals – and to turn more of those referrals into conversions.
Prioritizing Growth for Home Health Agencies: Where to Start
In a recent benchmark report based on a Trella survey, we learned that 63% of home health agencies have listed increasing admits/referrals as their top priority for 2022. And 36% named partnering with ACOs, DCEs, and other value-based care organizations as a secondary priority. From these responses, we can get at least a vague picture of the current landscape for home health agencies and their goals. From here, the question is, “Where do we start?” Because, in many cases, our home health partners know where they want to go in the coming year, but they may not know how to get there. Fortenberry had some tips and insights to help agencies kickstart their efforts to achieve these goals.
As we noted, the most common growth priorities in the home health space include increasing admits and referrals, partnering with ACOs, DCEs, and other value-based care organizations, and increasing admits for patients within a specific diagnostic category. Whether your agency is focused on a specific patient population or you have your sights on expansion via mergers and acquisitions, the first step should be to gain a clearer view of your market potential and the opportunities available to you.
“Get full insight and visibility into competitors and referral sources in your market,” Fortenberry advised. “Identify current referral relationships to better understand and strengthen existing relationships. Identify areas where you may be spending time on targets that aren’t the best fit or that won’t give you a good ROI for your time.”
Once you have the big picture and you’re familiar with your market, the next step is to ensure that you have the right people focused on the right markets. “When we talk about staffing issues,” Fortenberry pointed out, “it’s not just from the nursing side of things, it’s everywhere. And most recently we’ve seen a lot of people coming into the industry that don’t have post-acute care experience on the business development side. So, a focus in terms of understanding your market is putting people in the right place to focus on those high-ROI accounts, but also ensuring that your reps are prepared and armed with all of the training and knowledge they need to have quality conversations that will convince providers to refer patients to you.”
With the right people in place, armed with the data they need to engage in those conversations, the next question is what sets you apart? How are you going to differentiate your agency from other post-acute care destinations?
“The question, at this point,” Fortenberry said, “is really how do you use data specifically for your agency?” The key is to get approach data with the goal of gaining “a full picture of the market, to identify your key market differentiators, but also to find potential areas for improvement.” This is why it’s important to have access to data for your own agency, your competitors, your referral sources, and your whole market. For example, if one of your referral sources is a hospital, take a look at areas where they might need to improve – like readmission rates. You could use that information to demonstrate how referring patients to your agency reduces readmits and helps control costs.
Winning Targeting Strategies: Key Metrics to Consider
Once you have a picture of your market, and the landscape in which you’re operating, it’s time to talk about strategic targeting. Fortenberry referred back to his own days as a post-acute business development representative, just a few years ago. “At the time, it truly was taking donuts, playing bingo at a senior living center, and just hoping that you made an impression and got the referral. Today, it’s a totally different story. Now we have access to real data and tools to help us identify all the ways an agency can make an impact.”
One key metric to look at is underutilization. In a case of underutilization, a provider may have a large share of eligible patients in a given diagnostic category, but for whatever reason, that provider has not been leveraging home health for those patients.In cases like this, we often hear that the patients are simply not adhering to post-acute instructions, but that is often not the case. Based on our observations of data from Medicare FFS claims, about 50% of Medicare FFS patients are discharged home from inpatient stays with no post-acute instructions. “And so, when speaking with an underutilizing physician,” Fortenberry said, “it’s crucial to share how your home health organization compares against your peers and against the patient population that is discharged home with no instructions.”
Looking at readmission rates for a specific diagnosis and seeing how referrals to a home health agency resulted in lower readmission rates can help you educate physicians and develop them into upstream advocates for home health – and specifically for your home health agency.
Another metric to keep in mind is risk score. “Risk score gives you insight into the amount of care that can be expected for a patient population.” For instance, when looking at physicians in your market, take a closer look at those with higher risk scores. These may have higher readmission rates or other areas that could use improvement. If you note a high-risk score with lower home health utilization and higher readmissions, you’ve likely just identified an opportunity in your market.
With so many physicians underutilizing home health care, the goal for home health agencies doesn’t necessarily have to be centered around attracting referrals away from other agencies. It’s often more important to educate acute providers and address this issue of underutilization. Further, Fortenberry pointed out, “if a physician is making these decisions based on personal preferences or existing affiliations, they may just be doing it because of their existing relationship,” where they need to be looking at these decisions in terms of value. By targeting these providers and presenting them with key data, you can help them achieve their goals while working toward your own.
Implementing Data-Based Targeting Strategies
As you hone your messaging to better educate providers on the value of partnering with your home health, you should also consider which accounts to prioritize and how to target them. “Whether your priority is partnering with more value-based entities, increasing referrals and admits, or something else,” Fortenberry said, “today’s market no longer relies solely on relationships.” Hospitals, health systems, value-based care organizations, and other providers are under pressure to improve performance and reduce costs. While they appreciate a box of donuts and a kind note, they need to know that their post-acute care partners will help them achieve those goals and avoid financial penalties from CMS.
As you start to build your targeting strategy, consider exploring data around underutilization, diagnostic categories, and competing home health data. “Everyone here knows that the landscape of healthcare has changed and continues to change,” Fortenberry said. “The emphasis is on patient outcomes. And you need to be able to come to every conversation with metrics and specific data points using real insights, not just gut reactions to guide conversations.”
With this in mind, Fortenberry observed, “Home health agencies that are focused specifically on increasing admissions can benefit from looking into underutilization metrics.” By exploring which providers are underutilizing home health care, you can find new target accounts and start to educate those providers on the benefits of referring appropriate patients to a home health setting. You can even take this a bit further by looking at these providers’ most prevalent diagnostic categories. Look for providers who treat the patient populations you best serve and prioritize them on sales calls. Along the same lines, look at the competition and home health’s with high affiliations with your target referral sources. Where does your facility outperform the competition? Take that data to providers, and you could significantly increase your referrals.
It’s important to remember that many providers don’t have access to the same data that you have. “This is where providers in the post-acute space, like skilled nursing facilities, can provide a tremendous value to those organizations,” Fortenberry pointed out. “Understanding and targeting them based on their patient population and speaking specifically to some of their performance metrics is extremely important. It’s paramount to success because they often don’t see or know just how much a post-acute partnership could help their organization. Bringing quick, tangible, and accessible data on metrics that they care most about will set you apart and help you bring value to them from the first call.”
Analyzing Your Agency: Performance and Patient Mix
While analyzing the market, your competitors, and your target accounts will position you to make your case, you need to have a clear understanding of your own agency’s performance to show your value. Fortenberry pointed out that, “each diagnostic category requires a different skill and approach. And so, when we talk about, analyzing your organization, the first step is understanding what you do as an agency.” This is by far not the only step, though.
Another valuable approach is to get to know the patient mix in your market. You can then use that data to look at your agency’s patient mix and determine if there’s a diagnostic category that you treat more than others. Looking at that diagnostic category, how do you compare against other agencies in terms of county and state averages?
To illustrate how analyzing your patient mix against your market, Fortenberry used an example of a home health agency that partners with Trella for their market data. The customer’s challenge was to determine how to better partner with a health system in their area. Looking at a diagnostic mix for the health system in question, Fortenberry noted that 19% of the health system’s patients had circulatory system diagnoses, which presented an opportunity for our customer to approach the health system with performance metrics showing how a stronger referral partnership could help reduce readmission rates and decrease costs for those circulatory patients.
Next Steps: Leveraging Data to Achieve Your Goals
The landscape has changed dramatically for home health agencies – and for post-acute care organizations in general – over the past few years. As value-based payment models become more prevalent and more emphasis is placed on performance, cost, and patient outcomes, it will become even more important to demonstrate your value to your referring partners. A clear view of your market opportunities, the right targeting strategy, and information on how you can help acute providers improve on their quality and cost metrics are all essential to achieving your agency’s goals in 2022 and beyond.
Trella Health is the leader in market intelligence for the 65+ population, with extensive data sets including Medicare FFS, Medicare Advantage, commercial payers, ACOs, and DCEs. For more insights into how to stand out as a preferred referral partner, schedule a demo today.