No doubt about it: The home healthcare industry is booming right along with the baby boomers.
The economic downturn, healthcare reform legislation, the changing preferences of seniors in America (or perhaps, the greater availability of long-term care services in settings other than nursing homes), all have contributed to tremendous growth in this sector. (You can read about Home Care: Then & Now at SeniorsForLiving.com.) Throw in the huge numbers of boomers and seniors in need of services over the next few decades, and I’d say the future of home healthcare looks bright.
Yet there are still many challenges facing the industry. In this article from HealthcareIT News, Frank Morgan, managing director at RBC Capital Markets in Nashville, believes that post-acute care providers and other healthcare companies with “predictable volumes” will do well. But, he says, “On the negative side, home healthcare still faces formidable challenges this year.”
The industry’s rapid growth, increasing demand for services, and great diversity (home care spans a huge continuum of care options, from skilled medical care to non-medical companion services to hospice care, with many variations in between) undoubtedly creates complex challenges and rich opportunities.
Regulating home healthcare agencies
Challenges like how to appropriately regulate home care agencies are certainly at the top of the list. That’s because they are difficult to standardize given that some agencies provide only skilled medical services, others provide non-medical care, and some offer both. How to create and implement regulations that would be both protective of those receiving care, yet not overly restrictive for those providing it, will be a difficult balance to strike.
Yet regulations should not be the only reason that providers seek standards for quality care. Many agencies have already established a standard of excellence that they should continue to follow, regardless of new legislation or pending regulatory changes. Others could benefit from this level of accountability, but in the meantime, should consider implementing their own quality control measures to ensure that their agency stays afloat. As consumers become more aware of what sets apart those companies who provide superior home care, this self-enforcement will be crucial for longevity.
The means for reimbursement, both in terms of how the consumer pays the bill and how the agency can bill for services rendered, is also likely to change in the coming years, although as the home care industry grows and more legislation in support of aging-in-place services is passed, there is a real hope that this will be a change for the better.
Strategic planning for home health agencies
Among these challenges, existing home health agencies have the great advantage of staying ahead of the curve as these winds of change begin to blow. Veteran providers should maximize their enviable position by studying current consumers more closely, getting a better sense of what they want and need, and establishing a commendable training program for current and future caregivers.
Professional training, though often seen as cost-prohibitive in terms of time and resources, should be a top priority for all home care agencies moving forward. Home care agencies often advertise themselves as equipped to meet a diverse array of needs, yet many of their caregivers are inexperienced in dealing with the challenges that some illnesses and injuries may present (i.e. various forms/stages of dementia, end-of-life needs, etc.). Home care agency owners and operators should seek creative means for integrating the vast universe of online and in-community resources available to them, rather than viewing training as a series of one-day workshops, week-long in-service sessions, or lunch and learn seminars.
Baby boomers will have an effect on the home healthcare industry
Consider also the assertive nature of baby boomers, who are known to be quite the opposite in demeanor as the “silent generation” preceding them (read more about Baby Boomers: The Transformation Nation at our site), and you have an industry that will be driven by the demands of the very market that will be depending on its positive growth and long-term stability. Not to mention that a majority of boomers are, or will be, caught between caring for parents, children, and grandchildren (or all of the above), and may prevail themselves of the benefits that respite care via a home health agency might offer.
Also, not all boomers are in the best of health, apart from or before, after or during these intense caregiving experiences that many find themselves in. Consequently, the need for home care services (maybe PT after a knee replacement surgery, or light housekeeping help during chemo treatments) is likely to increase. Home care providers would do well to market to/educate the public about these specific needs, as many boomers are not even aware of what services are available to them and not just to their senior parents.
With the threat of dementia always looming – impacting boomers and seniors in equally devastating ways – the need for tailored home care services to meet these needs (and prevent the inevitable: caregiver burnout) will certainly grow. Again, specialized training in all aspects of dementia care will serve providers well to keep ahead of the competition.
Clearly we should expect many changes – positive and negative, exciting and disappointing – to this exploding industry in the coming years. There will be victories and defeats for businesses and for consumers. Sometimes, these extreme pressures force an industry out. That will not be the case here.
In some cases, assisted living communities and other congregate living settings are integrating home care services into their roster of amenities, as per the 2011 Top 10 Senior Housing Trends.
Yes, changes are in store, but you can bet that home care is not going anywhere, as AARP studies affirm that well over 90 percent of 50+ Americans prefer to stay in their homes as they age. And, if you ask the baby boomers/seniors utilizing or considering the services, that’s a comforting thing. Ask the executives, business owners and employees of the home healthcare industry, and they will agree, although they’re likely prepared for a wild ride.
Who knows what the future of home healthcare will look like, but it is nonetheless the industry to watch in the years to come.
Today’s guest post comes from SeniorsforLiving.com’s Michelle Seitzer. Before settling down as a full-time freelance writer, Michelle spent 10 years serving in various roles at assisted living communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland, then worked for several years as a public policy coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association’s PA Chapters. She has blogged for SeniorsforLiving.com since November 2008, and is the co-moderator of the first #ElderCareChat on Twitter, held every other Wednesday at 1pm EST. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.