For some reason, home health agencies tend to neglect marketing to oncologists. They either assume that cancer patients are dying and need hospice care, or that oncology does not attend to the senior population. Both of these statements are completely false, and if you've thought this way in the past, it may have cost you referrals.
Consider the first rule of cancer survival. You fight until you cannot (or do not want to) fight anymore. Patients often need a curative approach as opposed to a palliative one. This creates a demand for home health agencies that understand the needs of patients on chemotherapy or other treatments. Knowing that protein is key during chemo, or that physical therapy is most beneficial on the days that you feel the worst, are simple things that will set you apart from your competitors.
According to The American Cancer Society, 78% of all cancer diagnoses are found in people age 55 and older. What that means is that you have seniors (or soon to be seniors) who are looking to get well, taking medications that can most certainly make them homebound. The oncology offices these patients visit are often underserved by home health agencies. It’s time for you to implement and act on a plan to bring these potential oncology referral sources into your circle of trust and give them the confidence that you will deliver the highest quality care to improve their patient’s quality of life.
Here are some key elements to consider before you target your oncologists:
Do you have a cancer survivor working in a clinical capacity?
Is one of your nurses or clinical managers a cancer survivor, or were they previously an oncology nurse? If so, do they have a passion for helping other cancer patients to get the treatment they need while helping to improve their care and outcomes? Of course, you cannot directly ask for private medical history information from your staff. You can, however, ask if anyone would like to share their personal cancer experiences, whether experienced firsthand or through the care of a loved one battling the disease. You can create a fulfilling and mutually beneficial program where they are patient advocates and help with admissions or care delivery. This should resonate with your oncology physicians as well as your staff.
Many agencies also have a former oncology nurse on their team as well. Bringing that experience to the table can be just as beneficial, as it indicates an expertise that can only be gained from experience working in the field.
Do you truly understand the cancer diagnosis?
Cancer is a frightening class of diseases that have an unusually high mortality rate. That is something we all know. But do you also know that nutrition could play a huge roll in the recuperation time of many cancer patients? Also, many patients have cognitive issues and experience trouble managing daily activities during their treatment. This creates an obvious danger when it comes to medication management, which is the number one reason seniors are admitted to the hospital. While there are many reasons a patient needs care, your ability to demonstrate that you understand those needs to your oncologists will be vital to building a relationship to assist with the care of their patients.
One of the best tools in your toolbox is the understanding that you can provide peace of mind for your oncologists by looking out for their at-risk patients over the weekend.
Do you know what keeps your oncology referral sources up at night?
Your normal oncology department is open Monday through Friday. So what happens to their patients on Saturday and Sunday? One of the best tools in your toolbox is the understanding that you can provide piece of mind for your oncologists by looking out for their at-risk patients over the weekend. It takes a potential visit or call on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, but the results are a physician with less to worry about. That can develop into one of your highest referral providers and should not be overlooked.
Can you recognize the worsening symptoms of the different cancer prognoses?
There is no perfect list of symptoms to keep an eye on for cancer as a whole, but there are several indicators that show that disease is advancing for each specific type of cancer. Your team should have a shortlist of these symptoms prepared for each diagnosis. To maintain a strong relationship with your referral source, you will want to ensure that you are ahead of the game when it comes to suggesting hospice or palliative care approach.
Do you have a relationship with a hospice provider?
As I detailed above, there will be times that you will have to discharge a patient to hospice care. While having to cut your care short and potentially getting less reimbursement on the patient can affect your bottom line, you have a commitment as a care provider to do that when necessary. By partnering with a local hospice and creating a synergetic relationship, you can offer to work locally and help influence your referral sources to choose the hospice you prefer. Patients in hospice can sometimes push cancer into remission, and many of those patients will benefit from home health care until they are back to proper health. By building that relationship, you can retain those patients as they bounce back and help them get better. You can also acquire a new group of patients that may have started in hospice care. This should be a scenario where everyone wins.
Outline the scenarios and create a strategy to market to your local oncologists. Consider building a structured care plan with them as well. If you can build a mutually-beneficial plan of care that supplements the treatments they are providing, you create an ally that will send referrals your way for years to come.