In our world of non-essential business closings and stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of COVID-19, home health and hospice agencies must carry on. Their services are needed now more than ever, not only for existing patients but also new ones who may be recovering from novel coronavirus at home. These agencies rely on the brave professionals out in the field each day, visiting homes and communities despite the risk of infection to themselves. To maintain consistency, home health and hospice care also require a functioning back-office team to support the services they’re providing to patients. Many such teams are now working remotely…with positive results they attribute to having the right technologies already in place.
Working in the Cloud Makes It Simple and Secure
Moving operations from a single location to a wide variety of non-business settings sounds daunting. According to Barbara Boulton, RN, MSN, program support director at Cornerstone VNA based in Rochester, NH, her company’s recent adoption of cloud-based technology, allowing access to “all of our personal and shared network files,” was a fortunate circumstance when her back-office staff began working from home in March.
Once they solved a few issues – a lack of laptops or multiple monitors, setting up home offices, inconsistent connectivity and a technology learning curve for some employees – the staff transitioned well to remote operations. Barbara’s especially grateful for the workflow consistencies made possible by Forcura’s platform.
“Access to fax workflows, orders processing, and order tracking was 100 percent functional from the first day of our emergency management status, so our transition to working remotely was practically seamless. Logging into the Forcura website and accessing the entire platform as if we’re in the office is extremely beneficial. With interdepartmental communication now relying completely on electronic forms of communication, the Forcura workflow became even more important. Teams still have immediate access to referral documentation, lab results, physician communication, and orders.”
Cornerstone is far from alone in transitioning to a remote workforce. Lynn Roberts, manager of home health finance and administration for South Carolina’s Roper St. Francis Healthcare, says the interoperability between their web-based EHR from Homecare Homebase and Forcura’s workflow platform made it easy to transfer their business operations.
“We’re used to our field clinicians working remotely using tablets, so expanding that to accommodate our back-office staff was very easy. Forcura’s solution allows our staff to still work on receivables, authorizations and reauthorizations, intakes and obtaining physician signatures with normal functionality. Having built-in templates, so that we could continue to submit and receive faxes directly from providers has been very advantageous. It all came together quickly, and we’ve used it every day.”
Finding Ways to Motivate Disparate Workers is Vital
Both Lynn and Barbara point to the ongoing efforts of management to engage with employees now that they’re working apart. Lynn notes that this has been especially important, as Roper St. Francis initially experienced a decrease in admissions when COVID-19 struck.
“We’re committed to being present for our employees, whether emailing or calling them. We want to be sure they understand that we’re one team and together we’ll get through this. We had to flex when our admissions declined, so we tried to exercise fairness across the board with our folks. I'm very fortunate and blessed to work with this group of people.”
Barbara says incorporating video has been significant in motivating and connecting employees who are used to just walking down the hall to discuss issues in person.
“From the top down, we’re encouraging frequent electronic video meetings for all teams, not only to share essential information but also to see each other and remain cohesive as teams. Communication is critical to keeping everyone on the same page. Our corporate culture encourages a balance between work and personal life, so morale is high – and that helps us stay connected, too.”
Regarding meeting KPIs during the pandemic, Barbara identifies the “business as usual” approach of her CEO and management team as the driving force behind accomplishing their goals. Lynn notes that they’re monitoring their KPI’s “on a daily basis,” keeping an eye on business sectors that have been most affected and looking ahead to when elective procedures will resume.
What Will the Future Hold?
Each day of the pandemic brings new challenges – and some unexpected lessons. The success of video meetings means the Cornerstone clinical field staff will now be able to participate remotely rather than drive to the office. Roper St. Francis is encouraged by the increased use of telehealth, hoping it will be recognized as a billable service by CMS. Lynn and Barbara both believe that home health and hospice are not fully appreciated as vital parts of the healthcare continuum…but that impression is beginning to change thanks to local and national advocacy.
According to Barbara, “The National Association for Home Care & Hospice has done a remarkable job of speaking up, demonstrating how we’re playing an essential role in this national crisis, and can do so in the future. We’re just on the cusp of learning if we’ll have increased recognition in the post-pandemic world.” Lynn adds, “Home care often does not receive acknowledgement of the important benefits we’re providing to patients in their home.”
With no clear end to the pandemic, home health and hospice agencies will continue to do what they do best. Lynn expressed one final note of gratitude: “Despite all the uncertainty, it’s reassuring to know that we made good choices with our technology resources and our staff is familiar with our systems, so we’re able to function without disruption.”
As Forcura's Director of Communications and Brand Strategy, Kate brings a robust background and knowledge of the healthcare and post-acute industry to Forcura. She also represents Forcura as a social media ambassador at events around the country, is an on-camera reporter and interviewer, and host of our Innovate Jax podcast.