Patient-centered innovations, policy barriers, data sharing and workforce issues are some of the leadership challenges facing home care in 2021 and beyond. This, according to three association leaders speaking at Thursday’s Axxess-sponsored webinar entitled “Leadership Perspectives: Home Care in 2021.”

The pandemic has been a crucial time for the field because it has opened people’s eyes to the benefits of home care, panelists said.

“What we’re living through is tragic,” said Vicki Hoak, executive director of the Home Care Association of America. “But it provides a wonderful opportunity for home care to demonstrate its importance.”

Patient-centered innovation

Providing patient-centered innovation is one way to show value, said Edo Banach, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. He stressed the need for simplicity of offerings for  patients and their families.

“They want simpler, more equitable benefits and technology that improves their lives,” he said. “They don’t want to have to navigate between different buckets, namely personal care, palliative care and hospice. When it comes to hospice and home care, for example, hospice benefits such as music therapy and clergy visits shouldn’t be available toward end of life only and should be included as home care offerings.”

An integrated approach to innovation is also key, said Bill Dombi, president and CEO of National Association for Home Care & Hospice. “We’re seeing barriers coming down and the recognized value of at-home care rising, an example being the Hospital at Home program. We have to continue seeking relationships with acute-care providers and payers. After a year of living with the pandemic, they’re listening to us and understanding the importance of home care.”

But opportunities for innovation and disruption require that caregivers become actively engaged, he pointed out. 

“Get out of the audience and get up on the stage,” he said. 

Data-driven value

One area that home care, specifically, is lacking is data collection and development, noted Hoak. For example, home care does not have standardized assessments, star ratings and other metrics like its sister segments of home health and hospice. 

“When it comes to stating the value of in-home services, we’ve got to back that up with data,” she said.

And home-based care has been “totally forgotten” when it comes to electronic health records, she said.

“There needs to be efficient sharing of client data — where [patients have] been, where they’re going. We have a lot of work to do when it comes to sharing health records while being cognizant of patient privacy,” she said.

The association leaders, along with the moderator, John Olajide, founder and CEO of Axxess, a home technology company, agreed that the government should mandate the sharing of data so there is standardization. 

“It’s important to be a little paternalistic here,” Banach said. “The private market is never going to do things on their own.

Agreed Dombi, “The proprietary part should be your analytics,” he said, adding, “We’re talking about rising all boats through the raw data.”

Workforce

Beyond stressing innovation and data collection, another priority of the industry is the workforce, the association leaders said. Improving the COVID-19 vaccination rate is one hurdle, along with a severe staffing shortage. 

“We need to prioritize our frontline workers,” Hoak said. 

She pointed out that the development of standard home care training, now being discussed in Congress, would be a step in the right direction. She also noted that some of her members aren’t on board with the minimum wage hike and unemployment benefits contained in the COVID-relief package being debated in Congress.

Dombi agreed that caregiver shortage is an important issue. 

“We need to find solutions to the worker shortage that address compensation and education,” said Dombi, who said he dreams of a day when a degree in home care is a cause for celebration. “Our workers need to feel respected.”