Home Health Marketing Strategies

July 19th, 2015
When developing a home health marketing strategy for a Medicare-certified agency, there are two paths to consider. The ideal path is that your home health marketing strategy will generate referrals from medical referral sources such as doctors and discharge planners. This creates a predictable stream of business that allows agencies to focus more of their resources and creative energy on patient care. This is also the way Medicare always intended for home health to get patients, so agencies implementing a referral-based home health marketing strategy will find that there are fewer regulatory pitfalls. However, in today's saturated home health market, many medical home health agencies are finding that the largest agencies have such a firm hold on the existing supply of medical referrals that there is no way to break into the referral-based segment of the home health market. This has been especially true in markets like Houston, TX, where at times the number of certified home health agencies actually surpassed the number of primary care physicians. In these cases, home health agencies are forced to close or to develop successful direct-to-consumer home health marketing strategies. This article will primarily explore referral-based home health marketing strategies, but the next paragraph will summarize the direct-to-consumer home health marketing strategy approach. Home Health Marketing Strategy - Plan B Direct-to-Consumer This can start with agencies simply taking care of family and friends. It can be expanded by putting on health presentations for seniors within the community. These health presentations must have components with specific calls to action where attendees are invited to sign-up for a home health screening. Since home health patients are expected to be homebound, these presentations will ideally be offered at senior centers, assisted living facilities, etc. However, even these places have become saturated with savvy home health partners. So presentations in the community may be needed, and subjects such as how to care for parents can attract family members who can initiate an in-home evaluation. If an agency attempts to include traditional advertising in this mix, it's important to remember that a small agency will usually need to find a way to pick a small audience of high-utilizers and focus on achieving strong repetition within that small audience. Facebook Target Marketing is a valid method for implementing this type of focused repetition. There is a growing trend in home health marketing that agencies with good name recognition in the community are surviving market saturation better than those agencies that are only known among healthcare professionals. However, compared to a referral-based home health marketing strategy, the direct-to-consumer home health marketing strategy is sub-optimal for several reasons; not the least of which is the fact that the agency is always having to hustle for every single start-of-care. Ideally, as the young agency approaches several doctors to sign orders for these cases they have discovered in the community, they will build a rapport with a few doctors and earn future medical referrals. Long-term, an agency should strive for a home health marketing strategy that achieves a predictable flow of medical referrals while using direct-to-consumer marketing methods primarily for name recognition and to facilitate the referral process.   Home Health Marketing Strategy #1 Focus on the Most Productive Referral Sources A steady stream of preferential referrals from doctors and discharge planners are the Holy Grail of home health marketing strategies. Among discharge planners, hospital discharge planners are the most lucrative allies, but nursing home and rehab facility discharge planners can also be valuable relationships. Among physicians, orthopedic surgeons are the most productive home health referral sources. One busy orthopedic surgeon can send a home health agency sixteen, high-paying referrals per month. However, orthopedic surgeons are the most sought-after home health referral source and the least likely to willingly divide their referrals among multiple home health agencies. For this reason, primary care doctors and general surgeons tend to be good targets for home health marketing strategies. In this article, primary care doctors is meant to encompass family practitioners, internal medicine, general practitioners, and even some urgent care practitioners in free-standing practices. Busy and well-initiated primary care doctors can send six to eight referrals per month, and may be more willing to recommend different home health agencies for different cases. There are many other medical specialties that will send home health referrals (e.g. cardiologists, endocrinologists, neurologists). Doctors that typically make poor home health referral sources include hospitalists who do not have free-standing practices. In these situations, the discharge planners tend to have much more influence over the home health referral. However, every hospital and every home health marketing plan is different, and there is occasionally a viable reason to include hospital floor clinicians in a home health marketing strategy.   Home Health Marketing Strategy #2 Differentiate Home health agencies are not fungible. If you find doctors in your market acting as if most home health agencies are the same or using irrational methods to pick a home health agency, this only means that the agencies in the area have not successfully implemented home health marketing strategies that differentiate the agencies. Home health marketing strategies that differentiate the agency will involve classic marketing elements which may include a positioning strategy, unique selling points, competitive advantages, and one or more elevator speeches.  A thorough explanation of these concepts is beyond the scope of this individual article, but here are some suggestions. The easiest positioning strategy is to just promote that your agency is all-around better and have several unique selling points to promote that assertion.

Differentiate Against the Right Competition To just say that you care more or don't cheat, is a common approach that is also doomed to failure. You are not competing against the bottom agencies in your market for the preference of medical referral sources. You are competing against the top agencies in your market for the preference of doctors and discharge planners. How can your home health marketing strategy demonstrate that you are different from the top agencies in your market?

Common Ways to Demonstrate General Superiority

  • Tout patient satisfaction as evidenced by patient survey results published in Medicare Home Health Compare
  • Tout rehospitalization results in Medicare Home Health Compare
  • Tout overall Home Health Compare results (e.g. "ABC Home Health meets or exceeds 100% of publicly reported quality measures.")
  • Summarize the size and experience of staff
  • Use internal outcomes data
  • Prove that you provide more or longer visits for the same cost to the patient
  • Cite your inclusion in HomeCare Elite. If not TOP 500 or TOP 100, see if you can cite the number of times your agency has been named as a differentiating factor. While most home health agencies are not named by HomeCare Elite, most top home health agencies earning referrals from multiple doctors are.

Differentiate through Specialty Programs/Services or Creating Your Niche Some home health marketing strategies get an agency's foot in the door by giving doctors specific reasons to send specific types of cases. This home health marketing strategy proves particularly helpful when a doctor has established loyalties elsewhere, and you are looking for a way in. Niches do not have to be clinical.

For clinical niches, it's important to have specific credentials or outcome measures to which you can point. Many agencies have claimed to have done a bunch of research to create this great care path. The quality of those care paths has varied widely, so this particular claim with little concrete support will prove to be a weak component of a home health marketing strategy. Instead, head your diabetes management plan with a certified diabetes educator. If you have a "Reverse Geriatric Disability" program, be able to demonstrate your home health agency achieves better functional outcomes compared to other home health agencies. When creating your first specialty programs or niches, try to focus on patient or physician needs that are (1) common (2) chronic (3) costly and (4) under-served. If the focus of your niche or specialty program meets all four of these criteria, you will find the home health marketing strategy generates greater return on investment.

Niches and specialty programs need not be strictly clinical. Perhaps the top competition in your area is over-interpreting face-to-face documentation requirements and making referrals harder than they need to be. In this case, there are rewards available to the agency brave enough to promote itself as the home of easier referrals. Same day response to referrals, teaching offices physician reimbursement strategies, religious or ethnic affiliations, and other differentiating factors can serve as worthwhile points in home health marketing strategies. Just be careful to not over-niche. Presenting a niche too strongly has capped the growth of some home health agencies.

Home Health Marketing Strategy #3 Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. 

Never underestimate how much repetition is necessary in your home health marketing strategy for referral sources to be able to recall your agency name and sales strengths when you are not present. Look for any and every opportunity to put your message in front of doctors and discharge planners. Establish a set of sales strengths, prove them, and repeat them - repeat them a lot. Be careful to not make your repetition too obvious. Referral sources don't want to read or hear the same thing twice. Your home health marketing strategy has to rephrase your message or surround it with another interesting message all the time, so you can establish your repetition without turning off your referral source. For instance, let's say your agency responds faster to referrals than the other top agencies in your market. You can't just keep saying, "We respond within two hours." In advertising, you can keep using different clever angles such as creating an image of jack rabbit wearing a stethoscope. In personal visiting, you can detail different types of cases where speed of referral can be crucial. With the exception of unique, local opportunities, home health marketing strategies have only three ways to cost-effectively communicate with medical referral sources: Sales, Mail, and Facebook. Sales refers to a human making telephone calls or visits. Mail refers to sending mail and packages via United States Postal Service or other carriers. In experienced hands, Facebook can actually be used to create an ad set that delivers exclusively to the types of medical referral sources discussed in this article (see Facebook Target Marketing). The home health marketing strategies discussed in this article will facilitate having more effective home health sales people (i.e. community liaisons), but effective home health sales is an entire marketing discipline outside the scope of this article. Mail is a commonly underestimated and underutilized component in referral-based home health marketing strategies. You can find a lot of information in Brazzell Marketing Agency's Marketing Matters blog on this subject: Home Health Newsletters. Or, simply let Brazzell Marketing Agency make direct mail part of your home health marketing strategy. Brazzell Marketing Agency has a track record of strong-return on investment when implementing this home health marketing strategy: Home Health Newsletters for Doctors.