Improved Staffing Can Help Home Healthcare Industry Manage Rapid Growth

home-health-industry-growthThe home healthcare industry is growing rapidly, but hospitals and home health agencies are caught in a familiar struggle — finding qualified clinicians to care for patients.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that annual growth for home healthcare services from 2014 to 2024 will be 5 percent, the highest growth among all industries, not just healthcare.

"The biggest driver in the home health industry is 10,000 people are turning 65 every day in this country," said Alex Beaty, Regional Vice President of Home Health for AMN Healthcare.

An aging population, however, isn't the only driver of home health. Other major factors are patient preference, Medicare funding, and lower costs associated with home health. In fact, home health is the most cost-effective method of treating these patients. It's about the third of the cost of a hospital stay, Beaty said.

Home health has another benefit, too: it reduces the number of admissions to hospitals and nursing homes, according to a 2015 Health Affairs study. And home health isn't just for patients receiving post-acute care. A Home Health Study Report prepared for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows the industry is increasingly serving the non-acute population.

Finding quality clinicians

While industry growth is great news, it puts a strain on hiring qualified candidates in an environment where shortages are already a problem, particularly for nurses and physical therapists.

If hospitals and home health agencies are finding it hard to fill shift schedules, or they're noticing signs of fatigue among permanent staff, those may be early signs of trouble from fast growth. This can lead to loss of revenue, lapses in quality of care, clinical staff burnout, and eventual decline in patient confidence.

Temporary staffing is one option for hiring managers to consider. And, perhaps surprisingly, home care experience shouldn't be their No. 1 requirement of a candidate, Beaty said.

A few years ago, home care experience was thought to be critical for working in home health, particularly for physical therapists. But as demand is rising, the pool of available candidates is shrinking. However, home health experience may not be necessary. Physical therapists are well educated and tech savvy, Beaty said. They also move around modalities, from skilled nursing facilities to hospitals to rehab centers to home health -- and back. This means they're highly adaptable to different settings.

Home health hiring managers should also be on the look-out for nurses who have medical-surgical, acute and or rehab experience.

"With more patients coming out of hospitals sooner, there are more medically complex patients being treated," Beaty explained. Nurses with this background can be immediately productive when working with these types of patients.

In addition, they should be trained in Medicare's Outcome and Assessment Information Set (OASIS), which is used to assess adult home care patients and monitor patient outcomes. OASIS training ensures the temporary hire can hit the ground running.

Temporary staffing allows hiring managers to fill in the gaps and be flexible in a competitive marketplace. By using traveling nurses and physical therapists to help with the increased demand in home health services, home health agencies will have time to recruit and onboard permanent hires.

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