Can Lean Principles Work for Home Health Agencies?

May 11, 2017 2:39:10 PM

Today’s home health agencies are constantly challenged to provide better quality care at lower overall cost. Achieving this goal isn’t easy, and agency leaders often grapple with finding the right balance administratively while maintaining financial margins in the face of shifting reimbursement levels.  

Can Lean Principles Work for Home Health Agencies?The environment is not unlike the automotive industry in the late 1980s, where U.S. manufacturers struggled to build cars that could compete with Japanese imports on quality and price without sacrificing profitability or productivity.

Their solution was to adopt what is known today as lean manufacturing: a set of management principles that aims to relentlessly eliminate waste from an operating system. Waste is defined as any activity that consumes time, resources, or space but does not add value for the customer.

Adopting this approach turned the automotive industry on its head. Which begs the question: As agencies work to meet the challenges of the evolving health care industry head on, can lean management principles help them improve both cost and quality of care?

Applying Lean Methods in the Home Care Agency Setting

Lean principles require organizations to rethink current business processes by breaking these processes down into their most fundamental elements. At every step in a process, the organization must ask:

  • How efficiently are we using our resources?
  • What value does this add for the client? For the organization?
  • Are we producing a good result every time? If not, why not?
  • Are we producing delays that negatively affect our organization?

These can be incredibly difficult questions to answer candidly – which is precisely what makes the process so beneficial for home health agencies.

Delivering in-home care requires adhering to frequently complex processes, and it’s astonishing how quickly and insidiously waste can creep into these systems.

By evaluating every step in the care delivery process and eliminating or modifying any steps that don’t directly add value, agencies can leverage lean principles to drive out that waste and improve productivity, reduce costs, and increase satisfaction among patients, providers, and staff.

Encouraging Teams to Start Thinking Lean

With all the benefits the lean method offers home health agencies, success first and foremost begins with obtaining buy-in from caregivers, administrative staff, and management.

“Thinking lean” means improving and redesigning processes based on staff expertise. Everyone involved in a process must therefore not only be on board with the lean approach in general, management must be willing to empower stakeholders with the authority to become front-line problem solvers trained to identify waste and adapt processes as needed to eliminate it.

This empowerment in turn creates a sense of ownership and commitment among staff, which is critical to ensure sustainable and continuing improvements for the organization.

It’s a shift in thinking from the ground up – and from the top down. But it will only happen by design. Agencies looking to encourage a lean approach will likely need to deliberately create opportunities for lean thinking to happen.

For example:

  • Schedule regular team meetings to identify issues and brainstorm ideas to improve current and future care processes.
  • Have caregivers map the processes they must follow to deliver each service, allowing them to identify and eliminate inefficiencies and potential for errors.
  • Automate internal workflows and field processes wherever possible – such as with point-of-care documentation and Electronic Visit Verification – to further reduce errors.

As team members become more comfortable with lean thinking, and as they learn to trust in the process, the upside is enormous for the agency: better outcomes, lower costs, and improved compliance.

It’s clear, though, that going lean is a complex, challenging process. Having the right technology in place can help smooth the transition.

CellTrak’s Care Delivery Management solution can be an effective first step. By enabling home health agencies to optimize the processes involved in delivering services, they can build new efficiencies and capture maximum value. To learn more about how the CellTrak Care Delivery Management solution can help your agency take advantage of lean management methods, contact us today.

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Topics: Productivity