Bridging the Gap: Technology’s Role in Overcoming the Home Health Staffing Shortage
Whenever possible, older adults and people with disabilities prefer to stay in their own homes instead of moving to a nursing facility. Polls show that two-thirds of Americans 50 and older don’t want to relocate as they age. The reasons are obvious. Home is the place where they’re most comfortable. They can maintain their autonomy, keep more of their personal possessions, and maintain their ties to their local community. Studies show aging in place improves quality of life.
Recognition of the benefits of home care was already on the rise before the pandemic, but the risk of exposure in long-term care facilities accelerated its adoption. The trend will continue. A World Health Organization report predicts the number of people aged 60 and over in North America will increase by 30 percent by 2050. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics now puts home health aide at the top of its list of occupations with the most job growth for the next decade, and the outlook for registered nurses is similar.
But There’s a Problem
While the demand for home care is skyrocketing, home health providers can’t keep pace because of staffing shortages.
Across the entire healthcare industry, there aren’t enough registered nurses because older nurses are retiring, there are too few programs to train new ones, and a significant number are choosing to leave the field because of stress.
While not full-fledged nurses, certified nursing assistants (CNAs) can do many of the same tasks—like vital sign monitoring, administering medications, and wound care—as long as they’re working under a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). However, there’s a critical shortage of CNAs too because pay is low, and the jobs are demanding. According to Zippia, a CNA earns an average of $11 an hour, while a fast food worker makes nearly a dollar more. That means many workers opt for easier retail and food service roles with similar salaries. So, home care agencies can’t attract and retain the people they need. U.S. News reports that by 2025, the U.S. is estimated to have a shortage of approximately 446,000 home health aides and 95,000 nursing assistants.
What to Do?
To address the shortage of registered nurses, the federal government is offering incentives like tuition reimbursement and many states are too. The wage issue for CNAs will be slow to solve. Efforts to increase home care reimbursement rates at the state level—and thus the salary levels that home health agencies can afford to pay—have not been uniform, and a move to help increase resources at the federal level stalled in Congress. Some experts suggest solutions like incentives to give workers a path to improve their skill levels—meaning they could earn more money while simultaneously providing more care. Home care jobs could also be an entry point where employees simultaneously work towards the certifications they need for higher-paying careers like hospital nursing.
In the meantime, home care agencies need to do the most with the resources they do have, and that’s where mobile technology comes in. It not only helps them do more with less, but good experiences with mobile also drive employee retention.
Reimbursement is linked to the number of patients a home health worker visits per day, and the automation in mobile solutions help keep that number high. It’ll do things like automatically matching caregivers with the right patients—ensuring that a CNA with a cat allergy isn’t sent to a home with cats, for example. Mobile solutions also arrange caregiver schedules for the most geographic efficiency and keep no-show rates to a minimum—because yes, sometimes a patient isn’t home when they’re supposed to be.
The more workflows that can be streamlined and automated, the more patients a caregiver can see in a day. And when you give caregivers great tools that help them do their jobs, it reduces burnout and improves employee retention.
What Does a Good User Experience Look Like for Home Health Workers?
Because user experience plays such a significant role in employee retention, it’s essential to carefully consider all the features needed when choosing mobile solutions:
- Fast Access to Information
- Home healthcare providers are always on the move, and they need to be able to quickly pull up the information they need anywhere. 5G is important, but it goes beyond connectivity. Devices should have the processing power to run complex applications easily.
- Lightweight and Rugged
- Moving from home to home and dealing with often incapacitated patients means devices are frequently dropped or knocked to the floor. They have to be tough enough to handle the work yet light enough that they’re not a burden to carry along with all the other supplies a provider takes with them.
- Easy connection to peripherals
- Home care providers rely on many connected peripherals for their mobile devices, like blood pressure cuffs, O2 sensors, thermometers, and more. It’s a way of automating workflows when the information from those devices is seamlessly recorded in patient records. Turning on those devices and connecting them should be instant and easy. Any problems add unnecessary frustrations and delays.
- Optimized Scheduling and Directions
- While everyone can access excellent turn-by-turn navigation on their phones, home health providers need a higher level. The plan for a day’s patient visits should map out the locations and directions in the most efficient way. Delivery companies like UPS have been leveraging data for this kind of logistics efficiency for decades, and home health agencies should be using it too.
- Good Collaboration Tools
- Home health workers frequently need to check in with the rest of a patient’s care team to relay condition updates and instructions for changes to the care plan. Whether it’s phone, text, instant messaging, or more, those collaboration tools should be fast and reliable.
- Simple To Use Apps
- A recent study found that healthcare providers spend about 16 minutes on medical records for every patient visit. Cutting that time has to be a priority. Whether it’s patient records, scheduling, or doing a health evaluation, mobile device applications have to be secure, fast, powerful, and easy to use. Anything clunky significantly impacts the user experience and extends the time spent.
What Do Agencies Need?
When mapping out a technology strategy, home health agencies must consider the user experience and be willing to take a hard look at themselves as well. While they’re excellent at providing care, IT is likely to be more of a challenge.
Most companies—across all industries—find it hard to recruit and keep enough IT talent. While 97 percent of respondents in the Stratix 2023 Enterprise Mobility Outlook said mobile tech is very, or extremely, important to their business, the proliferation of mobile is putting pressure on the internal IT teams who have to procure and support it. Seventy-five percent of respondents told us they’re at least somewhat overwhelmed by the increasing number of mobile devices—with 41 percent putting it at very or extremely.
So, for home health agencies, a serious self-evaluation should be part of the process. Many lack the resources and expertise to design, deploy, and support mobile solutions at the required scale. Poor support is another cause of poor user experiences. For many agencies, partnering with a mobile managed services provider gives them the expert they need in their corner so they can focus on the business of caregiving and not technology woes.
Mobile technology is not a cure-all for staffing challenges in home healthcare, but it is significant. Getting it right makes a measurable difference. When looking at solutions, home health agencies should be evaluating user needs, internal resources, and challenges like scalability and futureproofing. Can a solution grow with you as you expand and potentially add more use cases? As the recognition of the benefits of home healthcare grows, it’s an exciting time to be in the business. If you can make your technology improve your productivity, efficiency, and quality of care, then you can reap the rewards.