Just a few short years ago, the largest barrier to referral growth was the perception that hospital-based agencies were receiving all of their hospital’s referrals. Small and large companies alike were intimidated by this monopolistic approach that they felt they could not possibly overcome. The irony is that Medicare claims data tells an entirely different story. Many hospital-based agencies receive below 60% of their parent hospital’s home health discharges. A good number of those agencies are convinced that being part of the hospital provides them security, when it most certainly does not.
Hospital-based agencies have a great census, a steady flow of patients and are managed efficiently, generally acting as an autonomous entity simply affiliated with the hospital. I meet executives from these types of agencies regularly, so I’ve taken note of five assumptions that almost every one of them are making.
1. We are hospital-based, so we don’t need to market to the community.
It’s easy to feel secure when you’ve got a built-in flow of patients, but it’s not that simple. While you may be capturing a large portion of your hospital’s patient discharges, you have to stop and think about every other hospital in your market. Where are their referrals going? You should also consider that the hospitalists may be bound to work with you, but a majority of the physicians operating within the hospital can send referrals to any agency they choose. Unless you build a relationship with these physicians, there is a good chance you are only getting their referrals if and when they are in your hospital.
2. We are hospital-based, so we don’t need to market at all.
I recall a similar confidence to this back in 2008, by thousands of small companies that are nothing more than a memory now. If you are not out in the field selling the benefits of your services, you cannot expect to be a leader in your market. Moreover, if the discharge planners in your hospital are getting positive attention from competing sales reps and none from you, you’ll find a good number of HMO referrals coming your way while your competitors will be working with the Medicare patients that provide a higher reimbursement. It’s not a just a possibility; it’s become a proven fact.
Now is the time to raise the standard, build relationships that matter and be the best agency in your market.
3. We are hospital-based and it’s 5:00 p.m. on Friday, so… see you Monday!
This one isn’t rocket science. If you are not available after 5:00 p.m. and your competitors are, you haven’t even given your agency a chance. While it’s nice to have a carefree weekend, not having coverage during this time can fundamentally hurt your business. The alarming part is that many hospital-based agencies don’t keep anyone on call for weekend admits. If only someone would tell our seniors to stop going to the hospital on the weekends, right? Having a team member slip over to the ER and discharge planners on the weekend, and letting them know they can call you directly, will greatly increase your odds of them not sending those patients elsewhere.
4. We are hospital-based, so we have more referrals than we can handle.
Rest assured, there are other home health and hospice agencies that can handle those referrals. They can handle your high acuity, weekend admits. They can do such a good job that a nurse or doctor will remember their performance and call them when they have a patient with a similar diagnosis. It’s a slippery slope, but you need to be able to meet the needs of patients in your hospital at all times. If you can’t, someone else will.
5. We are hospital-based, so we will never have to worry about acquiring referrals.
To most everyone working in post-acute care today, this statement is absurd. Not only have I heard this before, but I imagine a great deal of hospital-based agency executives have said or thought it as well. Being affiliated with a hospital does not mean that your agency is on easy street. Now is the time to raise the standard, build relationships that matter and be the best agency in your market. When re-admissions are high and positive outcomes are low, more and more hospitals are going to take quick (and potentially severe) action.
I leave you with this thought: With increased regulation and competitive standards now being evaluated by Medicare, now is the time to develop a strategy to build strong relationships with new referral sources both inside and outside of your hospital. Be careful not to get comfortable with where you are now, because nothing is guaranteed.