By Accountable Care Journal-
Home healthcare has seen a major transformation in recent years, including the increasing importance of patient-centered care, writes Barrett Coakley. This means that the patient and provider are partners in care delivery, resulting in improved outcomes and patient experience.
As well as supporting a more holistic patient view, the underlying technology also enables better resource allocation and reduced cost of care. To optimise and streamline internal processes and improve service quality, home care providers must make an investment in time and resources.
Historically, the home healthcare market has been slow to adopt technology but as consumer demands increase, so do patient expectations. Patients trust their care providers to deliver the correct treatment and services, so missing even a single appointment could lead to serious consequences. In an extremely dynamic market with changing regulations and emerging patient expectations, it’s key that organisations remain proactive and ensure exceptional service delivery, especially when inefficiency can impact everything from a patient’s health to the organisation’s bottom line.
While there are dozens of areas that affect quality of service, one of the most significant is scheduling. The way schedules are put together impacts patients, caregivers and scheduling coordinators and plays a major role in satisfaction for both the patient and provider. For instance, mishandling an appointment not only has a detrimental impact on patient’s health, but could also expose the organisation to fines or penalties. It also leads to frustrated caregivers. The holy grail of scheduling is that the requirements of caregivers and patients are completely aligned, such that high-quality care is provided at a minimum cost.
Many leading healthcare providers are turning to technology to improve operational efficiency while controlling costs. Optimised service scheduling gives organisations the ability to accommodate changing conditions in a highly automated way. But it’s the ‘how’ that can add complexity to operations and present a daunting challenge for providers.
Improving Scheduling for Caregivers
Delivering consistent care, day after day, begins with a plan. To align with patient needs and providers' business goals, it’s important that organisations maintain a standard of care that meets both.
Scheduling is a major factor for home health providers and often proves complex. If it’s not able to strategically coordinate daily plans, it’s likely that there will be errors and patients will not receive the level of care they’ve come to expect. Below are some areas to consider when optimising scheduling:
● Staffing coordinators must ensure that they are getting properly skilled caregivers to the right place, at the right time, with the correct equipment and medicine to effectively care for the patient. They must be able to accommodate and account for caregivers’ different schedules, levels of training and accreditation for specific tasks and working preferences, district and regional constraints.
● Factors like last minute cancellations, changing weather conditions and traffic patterns inevitably impact operations. But having flexible policies in place will help prepare for any disruption. For instance, having accurate travel times, especially for the first visit of the day, eliminates repeated delays throughout the day due to traffic. In addition, allocating providers with a mix of high and low priority tasks allows for schedule reshuffling.
Having the capacity to automate scheduling decisions is a game changer for service providers:
● Artificial intelligence (AI)-driven technology uses historical data to reduce idle time, predict travel time and allow for quickly reshuffling resources when necessary. For instance, instead of leaving white space in the schedule when a cancellation occurs, the proper technology can take the caregiver’s location into account and send them to another nearby patient without delaying other scheduled visits. This makes for a more productive day and satisfied clients.
The home healthcare market is growing extremely fast due to an aging population and longer life expectancies. As a result, research indicates that the number of companies providing home care services is expected to increase from 37,000 in 2016 to nearly 46,000 by 2021. With heavy competition, providers must focus on the dozens of factors that contribute to quality of service and experience. But it’s also critical to approach more basic elements of service, like scheduling, as strategically as any other in order to create and sustain a competitive advantage and most importantly, meet and exceed patient needs.