Category: Industry News

Why caring for caregivers is important

Why caring for caregivers is important

Who cares for the caregivers? Taking responsibility for a family member in need can be a full-time job. Many adults in the U.S. informally take care of an ill spouse, disabled child or aging family member. These caregivers often miss out on self-care opportunities and may experience their own negative health consequences as a result.

Caregivers should take steps to make time for self care and they should not be afraid to ask for help when they need it.

How daily responsibilities impact caregiver well-being

Caregivers face a number of challenges every day, outside of their caregiving responsibilities. Essential tasks such as grocery shopping and house cleaning can fall by the wayside as other important responsibilities take up additional time and energy. Over the long term, these stressors can add up, to the detriment of the caregiver's mental and physical well-being.

In fact, research from the University of Pittsburgh found that caregiving spouses between the ages of 66 and 96 have a 63 percent higher mortality risk than non-caregivers within the same age bracket.

Furthermore, the Family Caregiver Alliance reports that, regardless of age or sex, caregivers often experience sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, poor dietary habits and postponement of their own medical appointments. Emotions can run high, causing further stress on the caregiver's body, negatively impacting the individual's health.

These issues are not limited to a small group of people. According to the Mayo Clinic, roughly 1 in 3 adults provide care as an informal caregiver. Many of these individuals do not classify themselves as caregivers, and therefore miss out on opportunities for support.

Caring for an aging family member can be a full time job. Caring for an aging family member can be a full time job.

Why self care for caregivers is important

One reason caregivers may fail to take responsibility for their own personal care is because they feel selfish for doing so. Often, thinking about one's own problems leads to even deeper fears, such as what will happen if one is no longer able to care for a family member. These fears are legitimate, but caregivers should address them, lest they risk damaging their own well-being.

According to the National Cancer Institute, caregivers experience a range of conflicting emotions, including anger, grief, guilt and loneliness. For many caregivers, the first step to dealing with these negative emotions is to understand that it is completely normal to feel them. Every caregiver experiences these emotions on occasion and it can help to explore them with the help of a counselor, therapist or trusted family member.

When caregivers feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities, they should know it's all right to ask for help. In fact, the American Society on Aging provides a comprehensive list of organizations that provide care for caregivers.

What friends and family can do to help out

Caregivers should feel comfortable asking friends and family for help. Not everyone will be able to provide help. However, there's a good chance that these individuals want to offer assistance, but don't know how. Asking for specific assistance is a good way for caregivers to receive the help they need.

For instance, caregivers can request friends and family to assist with simple tasks around the home, such as cooking, cleaning, yard work or shopping. Family members can also make phone calls and find information the caregiver needs to provide for their loved one. These small activities can add up, freeing the caregiver to take care of their own needs so they can feel energized, rested and ready to provide care.

To learn more about how to support caregivers, visit our resource center.

Why hospice benefits are underutilized in the U.S.

Why Medicare hospice benefits are underutilized

Recent data shows that many Americans who are entitled to receive hospice services through Medicare are either unaware of the availability of benefits or are unwilling to take advantage of them. Only by spreading awareness of the availability of these essential services will hospice groups be able to raise participation rates.

What the statistics show

The recent Facts & Figures report from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization shows that the majority of Medicare beneficiaries do not fully benefit from available hospice resources. In fact, 40.5 percent of patients who access hospice services through Medicare receive 14 days or less of care.

Such a short span of time is insufficient to maximize these services. NHPCO President and CEO Edo Banach noted that patient and family outreach needs to improve to spread awareness of all benefits available to those facing end of life.

"The hospice interdisciplinary team is ideally suited to provide care and support to patients and family caregivers throughout the last months of life, not just the last days," Banach said.

Overall, hospice participation among Medicare patients could be improved. According to the report, 48 percent of Medicare decedents were enrolled in hospice at time of death in 2016. Further, of the 4,382 Medicare-certified hospice centers operating in the U.S., the majority had an average daily census of fewer than 50 patients.

Improving hospice participation among Medicare beneficiaries depends on a two-pronged approach: 1) Understanding patient and family motivations for declining hospices services, and 2) disseminating accurate information concerning the availability and types of services.

Patients may not be aware of the services available to them. Patients may not be aware of the services available to them.

Why families hesitate to use benefits

Patients and families often view enrollment in hospice services as the end of the road, only to be utilized when a family member is very close to end of life. They may fail to understand that these benefits are not only available on a short-term basis.

One reason for this misunderstanding may lie in the initial rollout of the Medicare hospice benefit. When these services first became available to Medicare patients in 1983, the majority of participants had terminal cancer.

Today, a larger percentage of hospice patients have cardiovascular diseases and dementia. Speaking with HealthLine, NHPCO vice president and COO John Mastrojohn explained that physicians may hesitate to refer dementia patients to a palliative care organization.

"It is well documented that the prognostication for those patients with a noncancer diagnosis is more difficult and is a complicating factor for physicians and others who refer patients to hospice care," said Mastrojohn.

Another reason individuals may refuse hospice care is a worry about expense. Patients and their families may not know the extent of services which are fully covered by the program. Therefore, spreading awareness of the availability of hospice benefits should be a priority among hospice organizational leaders.

How to encourage hospice participation

Hospice agencies can play a role in increasing the utilization of their services by becoming a source of knowledge for patients and their families. End of life is an incredibly stressful time, and even patients who research their options may not fully understand the exact benefits available to them.

Hospice leaders should consider developing a strategy for reaching out to local Medicare beneficiaries to explain, in plain language, the services patients are entitled to.

To learn more about patient outreach and discover the best-in-class features of our award-winning hospice management solution, schedule a conversation with one of our expert consultants today.

Change is in the air - is your agency ready?

M&A activity, trust and the hospice market

Mergers and acquisitions in the home health care sector have seen an increase in activity in recent years, and that's got a lot of agencies and staff members worried.The hospice sector is also seeing a spike in M&A activity, particularly as more health care providers – in and outside of acute care – consider expanding their services to include palliative care

With providers giving hospice a more central role, there are likely to be some big changes for acute care organizations in the near future. Amid the turbulence it's critical that agencies have EHR software they can depend on to help them continue providing care and receiving payment. 

Hospice M&A activity on the rise 
Interest in the hospice sector is rising, with many companies, such as Amedisys Inc., expanding their focus on this area of care, Home Health Care News reported. 

"I don't know of any [provider] looking to remain exclusively as a home health provider," said Mark Kulik, managing director of advisory firm The Braff Group, in an interview with the news source. "If you're a provider of Medicare-certified services, traditional episodic home care, I can't think of anybody of size that's not trying to also provide hospice services, as well."

Costs are driving part of this growing focus on hospice, which is often less expensive than other care delivery methods, and CMS reimbursement has generally been more favorable and steadier for hospice care, as Home Health Care News noted. 

hospice More providers are focusing on hospice care.

Expanding palliative care 
There are other factors at play, too, that have pushed many providers to look more closely at hospice. CMS has restricted what can be considered outside of the hospice benefit while at the same time increasing compliance standards, squeezing agencies and in effect forcing them to do more with less. As a result, many providers are introducing palliative care programs that enable them to provide a more comprehensive continuum of care, letting them capture patients who aren't hospice-appropriate and effectively care for those who are. 

Trust amid change 
Reorganization within health care to place more focus on hospice can present challenges for acute care agencies. Mergers and acquisitions, while growth opportunities, can create internal turbulence. Staff members can become unhappy because they are forced to adopt a difficult-to-use EHR or follow confusing new workflows. The change can create gaps in administrative support, with calls going unanswered and follow-up care and appointments failing to be scheduled. The agency can face hefty costs to re-establish partnerships with hospitals, labs and other providers. And the new EHR vendor may not provide the transparency needed to help the transition go smoothly and ensure that patient care is not disrupted in the interim. 

"Weather the tides of change with confidence and minimal disruption to care."

That's where trust comes in. Acute care agencies need to have the dependable support from a trusted EHR vendor that can help them weather the tides of change with confidence and minimal disruption to care. 

Thornberry's NDoc® solution has been named Best in KLAS in the homecare segment for a record-breaking five years in a row. NDoc® is a logic-based EHR that is designed to anticipate and accommodate change, avoid downtime during transitions and ease burdens on staff. NDoc® is also fully optimized for hospice care, and can help your agency expand its current services or implement a new palliative care program. And NDoc® is backed by Thornberry's dedicated customer support team, which is ready to help you whenever you need. 

As acute care priorities evolve, achieve the trusting partnership you need by choosing the Thornberry team and its award-winning NDoc® solution. 

These six tips can help you attract top talent.

6 hiring tips for home health care

Delivering high-quality home health care depends on who's on your team. It's impossible to deliver high-quality care without the right people on board across all departments of your home health agency, from clinical to administration support. 

But the quality of your hires depends on your recruitment strategy. Make the best hires for your HHA with these six tips:

1. Create a great candidate experience
"Candidate experience" is one of the buzziest phrases of the year, and for good reason: Creating a seamless, stress-free application process makes a positive impression on candidates and is more likely to lead top talent to accept an offer at your agency. A bad candidate experience generates bad press, too, with 72 percent of job applicants sharing their negative experience on review sites such as Glassoor, according to a study by Future Workplace. 

Here are the hallmarks of a great candidate experience – let them guide your recruitment strategy:

  • Timeliness: Recruitment can be time-intensive, but if candidates are left waiting to hear from you they may be picked up by another agency. Keep the process moving. 
  • Communication: Regularly update candidates on their status and stay in regular communication with them throughout the recruitment process. 
  • Simplicity: If people have to jump through hoops to apply for a job at your organization, they're going to look elsewhere. Streamlined, intuitive application processes are best. 

2. Reach right-fit applicants 
Another key to making great hires in home health is effectively reaching right-fit candidates. Advertise postings on social media sites such as LinkedIn and health care job boards. Work with a recruiter who specializes in the home health field and ensure they're fully briefed on the scope and demands of the job. 

Make sure people can apply for jobs at your agency on their smartphones, too, as 78 percent of millennials and 73 percent of Generation Xers used mobile devices to search for jobs in 2016, according to findings from the Pew Research Center. 

application Creating a great candidate experience helps you keep top talent interested.

3. Offer competitive salary and flexible benefits 
To attract the most qualified clinicians and administrative support staff, you need to offer competitive salary and benefits packages. Ensure the standard elements are there – great health insurance and retirement savings plans, for example, but also consider offering other non-typical benefits that are growing in popularity, such as generous PTO days, student loan repayment assistance and financial advisory services. 

4. Look for soft skills 
Of course, any new hire to your HHA needs to have the right technical and medical skills for the job, but it's also important to hire for soft skills, especially in patient-facing roles. Soft skills to look for include:

  • Effective written and verbal communication.
  • Creative problem solving.
  • Collaboration and teamwork.
  • Time management.

5. Plan onboarding 
Onboarding may seem like the last thing to think about when it comes to recruitment, but it deserves front-and-center attention. A great onboarding process is part of creating a positive candidate experience, and a structured program can help new hires hit the ground running. A strong onboarding process is one that includes ample training time and familiarizes the new hire with the teams and workflows of your agency. 

6. Stay organized 
Staying organized throughout the recruitment process helps improve the experience for both employer and employee. An EMR like Thornberry's NDoc® solution can help you HHA keep things running smoothly while more resources and time are devoted to recruitment efforts. 

The success of your HHA depends on the quality of its hires. Follow the six tips above to attract top talent and keep them on board through great application experiences. 

When it comes to sepsis, prevention is the best medicine for this deadly condition.

5 things to know about sepsis

When healthcare providers are doing everything they can to help patients get back on their feet or manage chronic illnesses, infections can decimate their efforts in the blink of an eye. 

Unfortunately, at many hospitals across the country, sepsis may be doing just that. And that means big problems for home health agencies, who send and receive patients to and from hospitals and depend on low readmission rates to avoid financial penalties. 

Sepsis is characterized by a breakdown in the body's healthy immune system response to infection. It is one of the top causes of hospital deaths in the U.S., with more than 1.5 million people developing the condition each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in three patients who die in a hospital have sepsis, a sobering statistic. 

sepsis Hospitals are seeing a growing number of sepsis cases. 

In response to this growing threat, state legislatures and regulatory bodies are mandating stricter standards for infection control by healthcare providers. The most famous case of this is New York State, which now requires all healthcare agencies to adopt more detailed, evidence-based screening and treatment protocols. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services followed suit, updating its conditions of participation to make it mandatory that all HHAs operate an infection control program. 

As the discussion around sepsis intensifies, here are five things home health agencies should know about this dangerous condition:

1. Older patients are at increased risk of developing sepsis 
While sepsis can develop in any patient, older individuals, who represent the bulk of home healthcare patients, are most at risk. A study published in the World Journal of Critical Care Medicine attributes the high incidence of sepsis in elderly patients to reduced immune system functions, high rates of co-morbidities and frequent and long hospital stays. Sepsis is the top reason for ICU admissions for elderly patients.   

2. Sepsis advances quickly 
The insidiousness of sepsis lies in its ability to progress rapidly. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine of more than 49,000 patients at 149 hospitals in New York State found that for every hour clinicians don't engage in sepsis control protocols, mortality rates increase by between 3 percent and 4 percent, Stat News reported. 

3. Sepsis is becoming antibiotic resistant 
There is growing concern over antibiotic resistance in the treatment of sepsis, a challenging issue seeing as antibiotics are a key treatment for the condition, as the Sepsis Alliance Explained. One study of 76 patients in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences found that the six antibiotics used most often to to treat infections demonstrated an average resistance higher than 50 percent

4. We're probably noticing sepsis more 
While the number of cases of sepsis has more than tripled in recent years, health experts say that the explanation is more likely that the condition seems more prevalent today because clinicians have gotten better at identifying the signs of sepsis, according to Bloomberg. 

Clinicians are "actually recognizing a much more common condition than we realized in the past was actually there," said Dr. Greg Martin, a professor of medicine at Emory University, in an interview with the source. 

5. Prevention is the best medicine 
The facts above point to an important conclusion: Prevention is the most effective way of combating sepsis. More comprehensive infection control protocols can help clinicians mitigate risk factors and identify patients most likely to develop the condition. Take the example of New York State, which saw sepsis mortality rates decrease nearly 16 percent as a result of the new and improved infection control processes. 

An EMR with enhanced infection control protocols is an important ally in the fight against sepsis. HHAs should choose a platform that enables clinicians and staff to have greater visibility into infection stages and provide more detailed documentation. Thornberry's NDoc® solution now features enhanced infection control protocols that include expanded data-collection fields and agency-wide reports – learn more about NDoc®, sepsis and Medicare infection control compliance here

Home health spending is slated to increase more than any other health care category.

Home health spending to skyrocket

Now that spring has come – at least according to the calendar – it's a great time to scrub the floors, open the windows and let the fresh air in. But if you work in the home health industry, it's also an opportune time to reassess your agency's budget and strategic priorities. The seasons aren't the only things changing – so is home health spending. 

Recent findings from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary predicts that home health spending will increase 6.7 percent by 2020, which is a higher growth rate than any other health care category, Home Health Care News reported. With spending set to compound over the next several years, HHAs should consider their future growth and resource needs today. 

Let's take a closer look at changing spending patterns in the home health industry and what they mean for your agency:

A growing market 
In addition to the 6.7 percent annual growth rate between now and 2020, the Office of the Actuary forecasted that home health spending will rise to $103 billion this year alone, representing a growth rate of 5.9 percent compared to 2017. Furthermore, industry spending is expected to increase to $173 billion by 2026. 

It's not just home health investment that is increasing, however, but total health care expenditure across the board. CMS predicts national health spending will display a 5.5 percent annual growth rate between 2017 and 2026, rising to a total spend of $5.7 trillion by 2026. This follows 4.3 percent spending growth in overall health care in 2016. 

Medicare and Medicaid spending in particular will also see an increase, rising 7.4 percent and 5.8 percent annually per year by 2026. Expenditures in these categories have already kicked off their forward momentum, with Medicaid spending growth anticipated to jump to 6.9 percent this year from the modest 2.9 percent growth seen in 2017. 

home health Home health spending is rapidly increasing – invest in the best technology so you don't fall behind.

Why the increases?
There are a number of factors that industry analysts attributed to the rise in home health spending. One main reason is an aging population – researchers say 20 percent of U.S. citizens will be age 65 and older by 2030, according to the Census Bureau. By 2050, there will be 83.7 million people age 65 and older, nearly double the amount in 2012.

The CMS Office of the Actuary cites higher incomes and more expensive medical goods and services as other reasons for the spending growth. 

So what do all these numbers mean to you?

It's time to invest 
Your HHA needs to be able to remain competitive with fellow agencies that are all spending more of their resources to improve quality of care. There are two key steps critical to doing this. 

First, your HHA needs to adopt a forward-looking approach to operations – what will you need to do now to set yourself up for success five years down the line? How will your agency capitalize on an accelerating market over the next decade, while navigating inevitable payment reform and downward pressure on reimbursement? Taking a long-term view of strategy can help you ensure the sustainability of care and remain agile.

Second, it's time to invest in the best home health technology. With competitors enhancing their platforms, you can't afford to skate by with a solely adequate system any longer. An innovative and responsive EMR like Thornberry's NDoc® solution can provide your agency with the dependable technological infrastructure it needs to grow productivity and manage and administer care seamlessly and efficiently.

With home health spending surging over the next several years, you need to make sure your HHA earns part of the pie. Invest in industry-leading home health technology to remain competitive and improve your quality of care. 

If you're buying something online, it pays to do your research - and that's where KLAS comes in.

What is KLAS and why should I care?

If you're buying something online, you do your research. You rifle through the pages of Amazon reviews, learning what users liked and disliked about a product and their suggestions to future buyers. You trust the reviews because it's not just something that the seller made up: it's honest-to-goodness feedback that tells you whether the product is likely to be worth your investment. 

If you apply this strategy to buying home goods online, then you should definitely apply it when purchasing EMR technology for your home health agency. You won't find the reviews on Amazon, but you'll find them on the KLAS Research website. KLAS is a leading healthcare IT research firm that provides the definitive ranking of vendors in the industry – it's the trusted go-to guide for home healthcare executives making buying decisions for new technology. 

Here's more on what KLAS is, and why you should care about it:

History of KLAS
As business and healthcare both become more data-driven, the need for transparency is paramount. A desire for greater transparency was what was driving four members of the healthcare IT industry to create KLAS Research in 1996. Today, the firm has more than 130 employees who analyze data and interview clients to publish industry-leading KLAS reports and rankings. 

reviews Whether you're buying home goods or health IT software, it pays to read reviews.

Honest reviews 
You know how some Amazon reviews include a disclaimer that says the reviewer received the item for free as part of a contest or survey? You probably don't trust those ones as much as the reviews without those qualifiers. And when you're buying a large-scale software suite, the need for an impartial, balanced review is even greater. KLAS Research is lauded in the industry for honest, fair reviews, without kickbacks or other incentives tied up in the vendor evaluation process. With a commitment to honesty and transparency, you can trust the reviews you read without worrying they're sponsored content. 

Client-provided feedback 
KLAS data scientists delve into the numbers to figure out where EMR and other healthcare IT vendors stand. However, this isn't the whole picture. KLAS staff also conduct in-depth interviews with real-life clients of vendors to find out the human side of their business. Are people happy with their products and with customer service? Do they have a positive impression of their vendor? Do they think their organization has benefited from adopting the vendor's software? All these questions and more are addressed during the KLAS research process, and the results of these client interviews weigh heavily in KLAS annual industry rankings. 

"KLAS staff conduct in-depth interviews with real-life clients."

Holistic view of business 
Today more than ever before, healthcare providers and business executives want to put their money where their morals are. KLAS Research understands this and incorporates ratings in ethical categories into their vendor rankings. Does the vendor act ethically and strive to do good? Can their clients trust them? While on the surface these qualities seem distinctly un-quantifiable, KLAS has a thorough vetting process that addresses all aspects of a vendor's operations. 

Make an investment with confidence 
Buying a new EMR is a major decision, and one that is not to be taken lightly. The software you choose will have a profound effect on your organization. That's why you should depend on KLAS to help guide your buying decisions – their reports and rankings give you the information you need to know to make a purchase with confidence. 

To guide your New Year-strategizing, here are seven tips for preparing your home health agency for 2018.

7 tips for preparing for 2018

2018 is right around the corner, and while you're probably thinking about your New Year's Eve plans and setting some personal resolutions, it's also important to think about how you can prepare your home health agency for success over the next 12 months. 

There are a lot of changes coming for home health and hospice this year, and a lot of exciting opportunities to strengthen patient care, too. To guide your New Year-strategizing, here are seven tips for preparing your home health agency for 2018:

1. Review the past year
You can't effectively look ahead without looking back first. Review what worked and what didn't in 2017 so you can adjust your strategy and make improvements in 2018. Another area to review is the technology at your agency – perhaps your EMR's security was not up to par and it's time to make an upgrade. By reviewing the past, you can create an effective strategy and more realistic budget for the new year.

2. Set SMART goals
As you evaluate the past year and think about your HHA's priorities in 2018, set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound) to help your agency stay on track. With all the hustle and bustle of the end of the year, SMART goal-setting can fall by the wayside, but taking the time to detail your ambitions and objectives makes it more likely you'll actually achieve them.

3. Make a plan to weather the transition to new conditions of participation 
This year saw the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services finalize new conditions of participation for home health agencies to participate in the Medicare program for the first time in decades. On Jan. 13, 2018, the changes will go into effect, which means your HHA needs to be ready to transition swiftly and smoothly. The new CoPs are designed to improve patient care and include some significant updates. A clear plan for implementation, effective staff communication and an interoperable EMR will help you successfully weather the transition.  

4. Dig into the details on OASIS, HIS and payment changes 
There are a variety of current and potential changes going on across the board that will affect HHAs and hospice providers in 2018 and beyond. CMS altered its "one clinician" convention regarding the Comprehensive Assessment:  Starting Jan. 1, 2018, clinicians will be permitted to gather feedback from other staff at the agency to aid in the completion of OASIS items related to the Comprehensive Assessment. You can read more about this change here. CMS also submitted a proposal to remove 35 OASIS items starting on Jan. 1, 2019, and while that's still a way off, HHAs should be ready to adjust their workflows accordingly. 

But that's not all. CMS updated the 2018 Medicare wage index and payment rates for HHAs, and also finalized proposals for the Home Health Value-Based Purchasing Model. 

And on the HIS side of things, the final version of HIS data submission specifications, which include will become effective on April 1, 2018. 

Going into 2018, make sure you understand the impact of these and other changes and how your HHA can be in compliance. 

5. Survey consolidation activity and referrals 
Consolidation is now "a defining factor in healthcare business models," as an article for the Healthcare Financial Management Association put it, and this is certainly apparent in home health. Several factors have driven consolidation in home health, including more palpable pressure to operate at a larger scale and at a higher level of operational efficiency as well as changes to how referrals are handled, advisory firm Harris Williams& Co. explained.

In fact, while M&A activity in healthcare overall slowed in the second quarter of 2017, it actually increased in the home health and hospice sector, according to Baker Tilly. The number of M&A transactions was up by 29 percent from the first quarter of 2017 and up 50 percent from the second quarter of 2016. 

Prepare for potentially more M&A activity in 2018 and consider how your HHA can strengthen its referrals arrangements in this more heavily consolidated landscape. 

6. Figure out how you can help partners reduce their hospital readmission rates
The new payment changes from CMS further incentivize the reduction of hospital readmission rates. Take a look at your existing strategy for reducing readmissions and see where it can be improved. It may be worth considering beginning to provide palliative care services at your HHA – a growing number of agencies are doing so to fill a gap in care while reducing readmissions for hospitals and other partner providers. 

7. Re-evaluate how ACOs are affecting you – and if you should join one 
In 2017, more than 359,000 clinicians joined ACOs, CMS reported. ACO participation is on the rise, with more home health agencies in particular joining in. The arrangement can help providers work together to reduce readmissions and costs and improve the quality of care, so consider if working toward joining an ACO should be a goal for your agency in 2018. 

With the tips above, you can set your HHA up for success in 2018. Happy New Year!

We've compiled a list of helpful questions and answers.

Q&A: What home health agencies need to know about palliative care

More home health care agencies are providing palliative care services to their patients. In many cases, this arrangement benefits providers, patients and their communities. 

As this is an emerging shift in home health, there is still much up in the air regarding palliative care. We've compiled a list of helpful questions and answers below:

Q: What is palliative care?

A: Palliative care is a program of services and support that are intended to control or reduce symptoms. Care is often administered over a long period, and can help individuals manage chronic illnesses. Palliative care is considered holistic and comprehensive, taking into account all aspects of a person's experience living with a certain condition. This means that palliative care is not just focused on treating an individual's illnesses, but on providing patient education, emotional support to patients and caregivers and strategies for living well with a long-term condition. 

Q: How does palliative care differ from hospice care?

A: While hospice care is typically offered to patients who are predicted to live six months or less, palliative care can be provided to individuals at any stage of their condition, including at the time of their initial diagnosis. Patients do not need to have been diagnosed with terminal conditions to receive palliative care. 

palliative care Palliative care can help patients with chronic conditions have a higher quality of life.

Similar to hospice care, palliative care can be jointly managed by a diverse team of healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, home health clinicians and physical and occupational therapists. Unlike hospice, palliative care can include aggressive treatment. 

Q: What are the benefits of palliative care?

A: Palliative care is beneficial because it can help individuals have a higher quality of life while dealing with serious illness. With its holistic approach, palliative care can help reduce physical pain, support mobility and promote positive emotional well-being while dealing with illness. And since a palliative care plan is often developed by several of the patient's healthcare providers through a coordinated effort, clinicians can customize the nature of palliative care to suit the patient's needs and update the plan according to any changes.

Q: Why are home health agencies starting to provide palliative care?

A: Many home health agencies are beginning to provide palliative care because it can help keep patients with long-term conditions out of the hospital. Through the Value-Based Purchasing payment program, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has increased its penalties for hospitals, home health agencies and other providers that have high rehospitalization rates. HHAs have found they can effectively treat patients through an informal palliative care program to lower rehospitalization rates for both their agency and their partner hospitals.  

Patients who may not qualify for the hospice benefit because their condition has not yet become terminal can still receive support to help them reduce symptoms and have a higher quality of life.

"Palliative care can help keep patients with long-term conditions out of the hospital."

Q: How does palliative care services fit into Medicare payment models?

A: Medicare does not currently cover palliative care, and does not reimburse HHAs for providing this type of care. Instead, HHAs are finding that palliative care patients are covered under fee-for-service. However, HHAs can see financial benefits from providing palliative care in reduced hospital readmission rates and thus lower Medicare penalties. 

As the popularity of HHAs operating palliative care programs grows, it's possible CMS may re-evaluate their payment models. Effective January 2016, CMS began paying for voluntary Advanced Care Planning under certain payment systems. 

Q: Which types of technology does an HHA need to start providing palliative care?

A: Interoperability, or the capacity to effectively share patients' accurate and updated health information among providers, is of particular importance in palliative care. A comprehensive EMR like the Thornberry NDoc® solution can provide the intuitive and interoperable system HHAs need to successfully implement and maintain palliative care programs. 

Think of technology integration as the thread that ties all the different elements of your home health agency together.

Why technology integration is essential in home health care

Think of technology integration as the thread that ties all the elements of your home health agency together. From keeping track of patient appointments to informing long-term care strategies, interoperable technology weaves different colors to create a stunning tapestry of high quality care and patient satisfaction. 

Let's take a closer look at the ways technology integration is essential in home health care:

Enables comprehensive patient support 
Though all the individuals your agency sees may be supported by homecare, each is following his or her own unique health journey. Technology integration enables your clinicians and staff to have a comprehensive understanding of these individual stories. 

Integrating your agency's EMR with detailed patient profiles and analytics functions allows clinicians to view not just which health conditions a patient is facing, but how their health has changed over time. By having access to these insights, they can develop more targeted strategies for managing long-term illnesses and can make personalized recommendations for preventative care. And when the EMR is interoperable with the systems of hospitals, primary care practices and specialists, home health agencies can have a more accurate understanding of a patient's overall health journey. 

integration Technology integration enables more streamlined workflows.

Expands the reach of care 
An important key to providing care is enabling patients to have easy and convenient access to health information. One important way to do this is through patient portals, which, when integrated with the larger EMR and clinical databases, can be vital touch points of interaction. Through these portals, patients can view their appointment schedules, read care recommendations from clinicians and access their medical histories. 

But technology integration also expands beyond patient portals to have exciting applications in telehealth. Video conferencing, streaming technology and other advancements can make it possible for home health providers to reach patients in rural or isolated communities. 

Streamlines operations 
By bringing together disparate systems, technology integration streamlines workflows, reducing costs and improving the efficiency of care. When all systems work in tandem with total readability and accessibility, staff and clinicians spend less time searching for the right data and more time developing care strategies. Technology integration also supports home care agencies to join Accountable Care Organizations, enabling the easy exchange of data and empowering these agencies to become able players in the modern healthcare landscape. 

Personalized patient support, enlarged scope of care and streamlined workflows – these are three important reasons why technology integration is essential in home health care. Thornberry's NDoc software was developed with interoperability front and center – contact us and learn more about how our EMR can support your agency