Recap: How to Increase Hospice Referrals with Unconventional Strategies

By Ashton Harrison | January 27, 2022

During Hospice News’ recent Growth Summit, Trella Health Revenue Enablement Manager Jonas Fortenberry sat down with Hospice News reporter Holly Vossel to discuss unconventional growth strategies to increase hospice referrals in today’s healthcare landscape. Along with answering questions from attendees, Fortenberry discussed the changing face of hospice marketing, including new approaches to: 

  • Increase conversion rates
  • Improve access to care for underserved patient populations 
  • Address physician underutilization of hospice care

In this article, we’ll discuss and elaborate on a few of the highlights from the session and key takeaways for hospices to increase census. 

How to Market and Sell Hospice Services  

When it comes to marketing, many hospices struggle with where to start. Without a clear view of market potential in their area, they may approach the problem with the perspective of attempting to fix something that’s broken. Fortenberry said, “It’s not necessarily about what to fix – it’s about how to optimize your marketing strategies to be the most impactful.” To do this, hospices must have insights into their current referral partnerships and data around acute providers in their market. 

“The first step is to fully understand your current referral partnerships,” Fortenberry said. “That’s the easiest low-hanging fruit because every agency has access to data about their direct referrals – data to manage and understand their hospice directorships, to see where the majority of their referrals are originating, and to see how they can take advantage of all available referral sources.” This is a good starting place for many hospices because it doesn’t require a lot of work gathering data from different sources, and it provides a good starting point to audit your organization and better understand where you stand with your existing partnerships.  

Fortenberry also recommended gaining visibility into the competition and the overall local market to help hospices gain a deeper understanding of their local healthcare ecosystem. Of course, that data will not be available in your hospice’s EHR. To save time in finding and analyzing market data, Fortenberry recommended a comprehensive data source like Marketscape by Trella Health. Beyond understanding your referral relationships and your competition, though, it’s also important to gain a clear view of the market and potential opportunities for your facility, which can only be accomplished if you have visibility into the full care continuum.  

You want to be able to communicate the value of partnering with your agency, “And when we talk about value of hospice,” Fortenberry remarked, “it’s things like average length of stay, diagnostic categories, and the best patient outcomes.”

So do you translate your marketing efforts into hospice sales? It’s essential for hospice sales and marketing teams to gain access to the right people in their markets. With the right data, hospices can determine which physician relationships are the most valuable and if they’re spending time on the right referral sources. “By no means is data a replacement for relationships or other marketing strategies and tactics,” Fortenberry said, “But making sure you’re focusing the right resources in the right times and places can help you focus on what to do in growth areas.” 


Strategies to Increase Hospice Referrals 

While having more knowledge and understanding of your market is a great starting point, the goal is ultimately to increase hospice admissions and ensure that patients are given the opportunity to take advantage of early hospice to save on costs and improve end-of-life care. This means improving conversion rates with your top referral sources. 

Fortenberry recommended focusing on existing partnerships and identifying which relationships you want to strengthen. “This can be as simple as going and picking up referrals in person. You can’t do that for every referral, but having conversations with families is one of the things that hospices can do as soon as they get a referral to increase conversions by educating patients and their families on the benefits of early hospice care.” 

However, while these in-person interactions are critical to helping providers, patients, and families understand the value of hospice care, they aren’t enough. Discussing industry trends that Trella Health’s data science team has uncovered, Fortenberry observed, “The number of patients that come out of an inpatient stay with no post-acute instructions is much higher than you would expect it to be.” Hospices have an opportunity to identify which facilities are underutilizing post-acute care and potentially turn that into more referrals.

With that data, you can target facilities and physicians to educate them on ways that hospice care at the right time can reduce hospital readmissions, decrease patient and family costs, and ensure that patients receive the right care in the right setting at the right time. 

Fortenberry also recommends that hospices take a look at how many patients in their markets are discharged from a hospital without hospice instructions, but then enter hospice care within 30 days. In many markets, this number is surprisingly high, and educating providers, patients, and families on the importance of appropriate care settings can go a long way. 

Increasing Hospice Referrals for Underserved Populations 

During the session, attendees were encouraged to ask questions regarding hospice challenges. In response to a question concerning how to increase referrals for underserved populations, Fortenberry had a few recommendations. “The first step is to admit that there’s something to strengthen,” Fortenberry said. Whether it’s improving patient diversity, increasing care for underserved populations, providing access to care for rural populations, hospices should explore the data on their patient populations and the patient populations in their markets.

This will help them better grasp where they need to focus their efforts. “Acknowledge the deficiency,” and identify the need, Fortenberry added, “Then put together a team to investigate how to impact that need. This is where access to data can help hospices not only understand where they excel and stand out against the competition but where they might be able to improve and better meet benchmarks and goals.  

Teams looking to improve in these areas can often benefit from investigating and improving upon timing and suitability challenges. Fortenberry pointed out that timeliness, access to care, and making timely connections are especially important for hospice care. “We talk about focusing on educating physicians, building relationships with facilities, and connecting with patients and families,” Fortenberry said. Essentially, the work you put into educating and building relationships with key people will help improve timely access to care. By showing providers, patients, and families the value of early hospice care, you can increase your admissions and ensure that those patients receive the best end-of-life care possible. 

Addressing Physician Underutilization  

And this relates directly to timeliness. “Where hospice-appropriate patients receive care in that last 30 days of life is really essential to know. For patients who didn’t receive any hospice care at all, showing how their likelihood to be readmitted to a hospital during the last month of life versus those receiving hospice care.” When you dig into the data, look at any physician that has lower than average utilization in their market. Then, as you explore data on these physicians, “look for those hospice-timely metrics to see when their patients enter care.”  

For example, when exploring a physician’s patients in the last 30 days, you want to look at the average length of stay for patients who received hospice care. Then, looking at physician data, search for what percentage of patients received early hospice, late hospice, or no hospice care at all. With an understanding of physicians’ utilization breakouts, you can look at correlations between hospice timing and ER or inpatient visits. Then, when you engage with the physician, you can show the concrete impact of identifying the need for hospice care and referring patients to hospice rather than discharging them home with no post-acute instructions. 

Next steps: The importance of data for improved hospice performance 

As Fortenberry pointed out in the session, most physicians don’t have easy access to the information that you have with a solution like Marketscape by Trella Health, or even the data in your own EMR. They aren’t informed about many of their patient populations, and they may simply not know how much of an impact early hospice care (or any hospice care) can have for their patients. The ability to share some of that data with them may give you the opening you’ve been looking for to have a fuller conversation, attract more hospice referrals, and increase conversions.  

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.  


About the Author:

Ashton Harrison, Marketing Engagement Manager

With a diverse background of sales and healthcare marketing, Ashton manages Trella’s events, press releases, and media and association relations. After graduating from Florida State University with a major in communications, she began her career at Greenway Health, a EHR company, where she found her passion for the healthcare industry. At Trella Health, she’s able to do all the things she loves about marketing — engaging at events, interactions with partners, and creating marketing pieces that share insight on Trella’s journey.