Ashton Harrison

For home health organizations, growing and strengthening your referral network is an important component to operational success. The pandemic brought on many new challenges for engaging with referral sources, and forced agencies to re-evaluate their referral targeting strategies.

In Trella’s recently released “2020 Industry Trend Report,” exploring trends from Medicare claims data through Q2 2020, we discovered home health admissions decreased 5.2% year-over-year in Q1 2020. This decrease could be due to various things, including a decline in overall fee-for-service (FFS) beneficiaries, a lower rate of home health referrals and a reduced number of elective surgeries at the beginning of the pandemic. These metrics reiterate the importance of efficient targeting strategies with community and hospital providers to improve your referral relationships and grow your post-acute care organization — through both admissions and revenue.

I will cover the three most common, effective and efficient targeting strategies your agency can implement for increasing referrals.

  1. The first referral targeting strategy is underutilization. Physicians underutilizing post-acute care have a large share of patients they have recently seen or treated who have not received home health, despite being eligible. Based on the most recent claims data, only 50.6% of Medicare FFS patients were discharged from an inpatient stay with post-acute care instructions nationwide. These underutilizing physicians fall short of utilization averages for their specialty in their respective markets and usually suggests that the physician is either unaware of home-based care options or is reluctant to suggest these services for their patients.

    To change the behavior of underutilizing physicians, you should use a combination of basic education on home health benefits and metrics that show the correlation of home health with better patient outcomes and a lower cost of care. Using underutilization as a physician targeting method is an easy way to increase your referrals and admissions and make a meaningful difference in patients’ lives.

  2. The second referral targeting strategy is unaffiliated physicians. An unaffiliated physician does not appear to have a trend or pattern regarding where they refer their patients. Look for physicians with a high number of Medicare FFS patients receiving post-acute care at a wide range of destinations. This can indicate that the physicians who are treating these patients are not necessarily the ones deciding on referring patients to post-acute care. In many cases, the recommendation comes from the attending physicians at the hospital, skilled nursing facility or another downstream setting that the patient has visited.

    Engaging with unaffiliated physicians presents an opportunity to showcase who you are as an agency and how you can impact his or her patients’ care. Better patient care and outcomes depend on finding the right organizations for a given physician’s patient population and ensuring accurate knowledge transfer of patient cases. Creating professional, trusted relationships with your agency can give your referral partners confidence their patients will be well cared for. In turn, your reputation for excellent patient outcomes will open the door to winning the referrals of other unaffiliated physicians in your network.

  3. The third and final referral targeting strategy is diagnostic-specific targeting. Each diagnostic category requires a different skillset and approach. While some post-acute care agencies may provide care for patients in any diagnostic grouping, their staff may be more well-equipped to handle certain patient types than others. The first step in developing a diagnostic-specific targeting strategy is knowing what the patient mix is in your market, what diagnostic category your agency treats more than others, and how you compare to your county and state averages. By aligning your physician targeting strategy with the patient mix in your county or state, you can focus your marketing efforts on building a compelling story for your agency’s performance in this category over your competitors.

    Alternatively, suppose your agency does not already have any existing performance metrics for this category. In that case, you can build out a program that lays the foundation for positive outcomes for these diagnostic-specific patients. Diagnostic-specific targeting tactics can be advantageous for your agency, the referring physician, and, most importantly, the patients themselves. By growing your relationship and market share in a specific category, you can hone your care program and positively impact patient outcomes.

These three core strategies focus on identifying the right physicians to engage with to improve your referral partnership and overall patient outcomes. By demonstrating the value of post-acute care — and, more specifically, your organization’s strengths while highlighting your organization’s performance metrics — you can help ensure their patients get the right type of care at the right time.

Ashton Harrison is marketing engagement manager for Trella Health, a leading provider of actionable insights for healthcare networks, ACOs and the post-acute care market.