Patient experience is top priority in home care

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Monday, June 1, 2020

Perhaps a piece of silver lining that has come from the pandemic is the provider’s hands-on experience in adapting to change and creating new forms of patient management. Historically, they have provided equipment that is crucial in the care continuum, but now they must evolve and provide more value than tangible equipment, especially when they are offering products that may not be unique.

Care providers will seek DMEs who are complete partners in each patient’s health care journey, provide excellent customer and product service, and help patients navigate the evolving health insurance landscape. Each of these is integral to ensuring optimal care and optimal patient experiences. 

Redefining value

While many in the health care industry have historically associated quality with cost and metrics, if they are to attract care providers, DMEs must associate quality with patient interests, starting with access. 

In addition to being a stress test for the health care industry, COVID-19 has been a stress test for our nation’s supply chain. DMEs should provide patients with easy access to the equipment they need, whether it’s via consignment, local offices, regional distribution networks or most importantly, home delivery. One of the first questions providers will ask is whether a new DME partner has the potential to make patient access easier or more difficult, and whether a DME has access to the insurance contracts that align with the majority of their patient’s insurance. By providing them with a solution, especially one that is in their favor, the provider too reaps the benefits. 

Safety and patient outcomes are also paramount. The primary objective of care is to either improve patient condition when it is less than ideal, or sustain patient condition when it is ideal. From a provider’s perspective, DMEs need to provide high-quality equipment that can improve safety or patient outcomes.

Access and education may be the two most important components of the patient experience, and patient experience may be the most important component of home care. To work cohesively, each of a provider’s partners must work toward the same end, and in this case, that means working toward outstanding patient experiences.

To do that, DMEs will be expcted to offer dedicated product contacts and support specialists. This way, you are helping patients directly, both expediting patient service and freeing up your provider partner’s resources so they can be shifted toward the front lines of care. 

Health insurance can be very complicated for patients on their own, but DMEs with robust insurance service departments that can help patients navigate this landscape have a leg up on the competition. On their own, patients may often pay out of pocket for medical equipment, but your insurance specialists will help them get the same products at little or no cost through insurance. DMEs must get this point across to potential provider partners, since it addresses a major patient concern and offloads another valuable area of expertise from care organizations to partners.

Keeping pace

Of course, care providers must also consider their own experience when working with DMEs. Care providers and organizations have made major technological strides in recent years and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While some may return to previous operations, many will be changed forever.

The most attractive DMEs will be the ones that use electronic health records (EHR) and digital contract management systems to automate and simplify processes for care providers. These systems allow DMEs to quickly and accurately address providers’ requests, which in turn allows providers to quickly resolve patients’ inquiries and increase patient satisfaction.

The pandemic has made it clear that health care must follow the path of retail and meet patients at their doorsteps, on their terms. DMEs must be able to get patients what they need, when they need it and where they need it. This is a significant part of the access equation we mentioned earlier. 

Telehealth may be the biggest game changer to emerge from the pandemic. Partners offering telehealth services will no longer be the exception, but rather the expectation. This was once reserved for patients with agoraphobia or patients living in very rural areas but going forward, it must be a core competency of your partners. When providers assess potential DME partners, they will look to ensure that DMEs can help patients set up or troubleshoot their equipment virtually.

Many think an engaging web presence goes without saying in 2020, but they may be surprised how often this is lacking. Some DMEs are so focused on their supply chains that they neglect to make their websites user-friendly, frustrating patients and negatively impacting outcomes. One of a DME’s primary goals is to make patients’ lives easier and in many cases, that begins where patient and supplier first meet: the website.

How better patient journeys improve everyone’s bottom lines

Since better patient journeys will result in higher patient satisfaction, increased patient retention and more referrals, you can expect care providers to always strive to improve the patient experience from start to finish. Logically, they will enlist partners who are looking to do the same. 

The most successful DMEs will be those who are involved in patient journeys from first contact until the end of treatment, take some of the work off of their care partners’ plates in the form of excellent product and insurance service, prioritize patient interests and realize that value is more than monetary. These are the kinds of partners who will truly add value to providers and allow them to thrive in the new era of care.

Ryan Bullock is chief operating officer of Aeroflow Healthcare and vice chair of the American Association for Homecare’s (AAHomecare) Payer Relations Council.