Home Healthcare: Fastest-Growing Industry Faces Workforce Challenges

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What will be the fastest growing industry in the United States for jobs over the next decade? Home healthcare services. It’s not just the fastest growing healthcare industry; it’s the fastest growing of all industries.

In a study released in December 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that the compound annual growth rate for home healthcare services from 2014-2024 would be nearly 5%, the highest among all industries. That will mean 760,400 new jobs.

Juggernaut for Jobs

For all occupations in the home healthcare industry, the BLS projected that employment will rise from 1.26 million in 2014 to 2.02 million in 2024. While some of those jobs are for home health aides and personal care aides, jobs with no formal educational requirements, many are for a wide range of healthcare professionals, particularly registered nurses but also physician assistants, nurse practitioners, a variety of therapists and other allied practitioners, and many clinical management roles.

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“The rise in home healthcare is driven by the immense changes underway in the healthcare industry, changes that will continue to propel our industry for years to come,” said Jeff Decker, Division President, Allied, at AMN Healthcare. “Finding the quality healthcare professionals this industry will need, and optimizing the staff that they have, will be major challenges as home healthcare continues to heat up.”

The home healthcare industry is driven by many of the same pressures that are increasing demand throughout healthcare. The Affordable Care Act calls for improvements in quality of care, population health and cost containment. Home healthcare is an important answer to these challenges. It can result in greater patient satisfaction, greater patient compliance with treatment and more proactive care, which can improve care quality. Home healthcare can bring diagnostics, treatment and prevention to the patient, rather than passively waiting for the patient to enter a doctor’s office or clinic, which is important to improving population health.

It’s expected that home healthcare will also contain costs, including through improved patient compliance and reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations. The overall cost of home healthcare is lower than that of inpatient facilities, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In addition, Medicare will be adding value-based reimbursements to home healthcare, rewarding agencies for preventive measures that improve patient outcomes.

Overcoming Workforce Shortages

The rapid growth of home healthcare coincides with growing shortages of the clinicians needed for home healthcare to succeed. Demand for nurses, allied practitioners, physicians and support staff is growing in every sector of the healthcare industry, even in hospitals, where employment is projected to rise by nearly 400,000 jobs by 2024. Home healthcare agencies will be competing for quality practitioners with numerous other healthcare industries, including many well-established enterprises. The competition for registered nurses may be particularly acute.

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Failure to hire needed healthcare professionals can threaten the viability of home healthcare agencies through loss of revenue, lapses in quality of care, clinical staff burnout, and eventual decline in patient confidence. Overcoming workforce challenges starts with staff planning, which is vital to meeting patient demand.

“Staff planning is very important in a rapidly growing, increasingly challenging industry like home healthcare,” said Alex Beaty, Vice President, AMN Healthcare. “If you find yourself having difficulty in filling shift schedules or your staff members are showing signs of fatigue, you may be witnessing the early signs of trouble from fast growth.”

Staff planning in home healthcare should include flexibility to fill gaps, such as the time it takes to recruit and onboard permanent hires. That will require a mix of permanent and temporary clinicians, including travel nurses and allied professionals. In addition, candidates should either have experience in home healthcare or receive training so they can be immediately productive. Recruitment of large numbers of permanent staff and managing temporary staff are other factors that should be included in staff planning.

Accomplishing such complex staff planning in an increasingly competitive marketplace can be difficult, particularly for an industry in a heated growth cycle that does not have the necessary staffing and workforce solutions infrastructure. Partnering with healthcare workforce experts with the largest nationwide database of quality practitioners, skills in innovative recruitment and management techniques, and capacity for clinical education and training could be vital to the success of growing home healthcare agencies.