To guide your New Year-strategizing, here are seven tips for preparing your home health agency for 2018.

7 tips for preparing for 2018


2018 is right around the corner, and while you’re probably thinking about your New Year’s Eve plans and setting some personal resolutions, it’s also important to think about how you can prepare your home health agency for success over the next 12 months.

There are a lot of changes coming for home health and hospice this year, and a lot of exciting opportunities to strengthen patient care, too. To guide your New Year-strategizing, here are seven tips for preparing your home health agency for 2018:

1. Review the past year
You can’t effectively look ahead without looking back first. Review what worked and what didn’t in 2017 so you can adjust your strategy and make improvements in 2018. Another area to review is the technology at your agency – perhaps your EMR’s security was not up to par and it’s time to make an upgrade. By reviewing the past, you can create an effective strategy and more realistic budget for the new year.

2. Set SMART goals
As you evaluate the past year and think about your HHA’s priorities in 2018, set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound) to help your agency stay on track. With all the hustle and bustle of the end of the year, SMART goal-setting can fall by the wayside, but taking the time to detail your ambitions and objectives makes it more likely you’ll actually achieve them.

3. Make a plan to weather the transition to new conditions of participation 
This year saw the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services finalize new conditions of participation for home health agencies to participate in the Medicare program for the first time in decades. On Jan. 13, 2018, the changes will go into effect, which means your HHA needs to be ready to transition swiftly and smoothly. The new CoPs are designed to improve patient care and include some significant updates. A clear plan for implementation, effective staff communication and an interoperable EMR will help you successfully weather the transition.

4. Dig into the details on OASIS, HIS and payment changes 
There are a variety of current and potential changes going on across the board that will affect HHAs and hospice providers in 2018 and beyond. CMS altered its “one clinician” convention regarding the Comprehensive Assessment:  Starting Jan. 1, 2018, clinicians will be permitted to gather feedback from other staff at the agency to aid in the completion of OASIS items related to the Comprehensive Assessment. You can read more about this change here. CMS also submitted a proposal to remove 35 OASIS items starting on Jan. 1, 2019, and while that’s still a way off, HHAs should be ready to adjust their workflows accordingly.

But that’s not all. CMS updated the 2018 Medicare wage index and payment rates for HHAs, and also finalized proposals for the Home Health Value-Based Purchasing Model.

And on the HIS side of things, the final version of HIS data submission specifications will become effective on April 1, 2018.

Going into 2018, make sure you understand the impact of these and other changes and how your HHA can be in compliance.

5. Survey consolidation activity and referrals 
Consolidation is now “a defining factor in healthcare business models,” as an article for the Healthcare Financial Management Association put it, and this is certainly apparent in home health. Several factors have driven consolidation in home health, including more palpable pressure to operate at a larger scale and at a higher level of operational efficiency as well as changes to how referrals are handled, advisory firm Harris Williams& Co. explained.

In fact, while M&A activity in healthcare overall slowed in the second quarter of 2017, it actually increased in the home health and hospice sector, according to Baker Tilly. The number of M&A transactions was up by 29 percent from the first quarter of 2017 and up 50 percent from the second quarter of 2016.

Prepare for potentially more M&A activity in 2018 and consider how your HHA can strengthen its referrals arrangements in this more heavily consolidated landscape.

6. Figure out how you can help partners reduce their hospital readmission rates
The new payment changes from CMS further incentivize the reduction of hospital readmission rates. Take a look at your existing strategy for reducing readmissions and see where it can be improved. It may be worth considering beginning to provide palliative care services at your HHA – a growing number of agencies are doing so to fill a gap in care while reducing readmissions for hospitals and other partner providers.

7. Re-evaluate how ACOs are affecting you – and if you should join one 
In 2017, more than 359,000 clinicians joined ACOs, CMS reported. ACO participation is on the rise, with more home health agencies in particular joining in. The arrangement can help providers work together to reduce readmissions and costs and improve the quality of care, so consider if working toward joining an ACO should be a goal for your agency in 2018.

With the tips above, you can set your HHA up for success in 2018. Happy New Year!