The pandemic was a spotlight on home health care.
What it highlighted was not just the people receiving care, but also those providing it.
“I think the pandemic really shined a light on the importance of the clinician experience and satisfaction, and also the critical role that the clinician plays in the delivery system within the home,” says Brandy Sparkman-Beierle, chief clinical officer for home-based care technology platform Homecare Homebase.
Indeed, the home health clinician has always been at the core of patient care, but never before has this role been as important as it is today in a post-pandemic world. Results from the 2023 Home-Based Care Outlook Survey from Homecare Homebase and Home Health Care News revealed a striking focus on staffing in the year ahead:
- 67% of survey respondents cited staffing as the greatest challenge to the industry in 2023
- 42% of respondents believe their company can achieve the greatest business efficiencies in staffing utilization in 2023
How the home health clinician experience has changed
It’s easy and appropriate to use the pandemic as health care’s dividing line between “then” and “now.” But changes in the industry were starting even before 2020. Sparkman-Beierle sees three big changes to the home health clinician experience and all of them started before COVID.
Patients are asking to be taken care of in the home and many are more acutely ill than they were five years ago,” she says. “Clinician satisfaction and what I call ‘caregiver fatigue’ are at the center of that, and we don’t have the clinician pipeline that we had five years ago. The workforce has aged and is leaving the bedside at a higher rate today than they were five years ago. The pipeline isn’t robust enough as it relates to home care, to continue to place high-quality, compassionate, caring clinicians in the home at a speed that we need to.”
For clinicians, questions about work-life balance were top of mind even before COVID. Those have only grown since then, along with pandemic-specific challenges around everything from documentation to infection control. Organizations can optimize their EHR to help clinicians succeed and give them more time to provide care.
“I talk all the time inside Homecare Homebase about making sure that our technology is leveraged in a delightful, intuitive way,” Sparkman-Beierle says. “That means that the clinician is not completing— or concerned—with redundant tasks within the technology. That way, they can operate at the top of their license, do meaningful work, look into the eyes of the patient that they’re taking care of and deliver that care, versus looking down at a screen and click, click, clicking away.”
5 ways agencies can improve the clinician experience
Sparkman-Beierle sees five key ways that agencies can help their clinicians build a more satisfying work experience.
- Create a culture of empowerment and active listening. “You need to ask thoughtful questions. “That means opening the dialogue and asking thoughtful, probing questions about what is important to them as clinicians. Where do they think they can get time back into their day? What are the redundant tasks that the agency leadership should focus on removing so that clinicians can focus on meaningful work? I think starting the conversation with the clinician is number one.”
- Leverage data to engage with clinicians. Your agency’s data also contains information that can help you facilitate meaningful conversations around job satisfaction with your clinicians. For example, Homecare Homebase identified eight key factors that contribute to clinical satisfaction and created a dashboard in HCHB Analytics that provides a scorecard that leaders can use to gauge clinician satisfaction on an individual, branch or company-wide level. It provides insight into metrics like, daily documentation hours, drive time, caseload and schedule balance from the satisfaction perspective rather than focusing solely on productivity.
- Ride-alongs. By definition, home-based care is a decentralized job. Sparkman-Beierle wants to see more agency leaders rolling up their sleeves and jumping into the front lines. “I think that agency leaders need to get in the car and ride out with their clinicians and just watch them,” she says. “How do they spend their time and how can leaders work with clinicians to create efficiencies within their day? This builds rapport with them as well.”
- Build out a shared governance structure. Clinicians are on the ground level, but that doesn’t mean they should be left out of the agency-wide discussions. “We have to bring them to the table,” Sparkman-Beierle says. “They have to be a part of the decision-making. You have to create shared governance structures, and they have to understand the ‘why.’” She notes that to help clinicians understand the ‘why,’ agencies should keep them in the loop on any major agency changes. “They’re the subject matter experts,” she says. “They’re the ones out on the road every day knocking on doors and looking in patients’ eyes, so they should be a part of the critical conversations about how to improve their experience.”
- Appropriate resource assignments. Lastly, Sparkman-Beierle notes the importance of assigning “appropriate work to the right clinicians” and always evaluating people, processes and technology, with the clinician and the patient as the north star. “Clinicians become experts in many different ways, and we need to make sure that we’re assigning the most meaningful work to the appropriate resource,” she says.
Home health agencies have been tasked with caring for both patients and clinicians. The path forward isn’t always easy, but with the right staff, the right approach to hiring and retaining that staff and the right technology tools, success is around the corner.
This article is sponsored by Homecare Homebase. Homecare Homebase is a software leader offering hosted, cloud-based solutions to streamline operations, simplify compliance and boost clinical and financial outcomes for home-based care agencies. Our customized mobile solutions enable real-time, wireless data exchange and communication between field clinicians, physicians and office staff for better care, more accurate reporting and improved revenue cycle management. To learn more, visit hchb.com.
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