How to nurture referral partner relationships when your health agency is at capacity

It’s been nearly three years since the peak of COVID-19 and a rollercoaster for home health care agencies. Post-acute referrals were 123% higher in 2022 than in 2019 (Home Health Care News), and the demand for home health care remains consistent. However, persistent nursing shortages have left most with more service demand than they can handle. Agencies are making the difficult decision to reject patient referrals from healthcare providers due to limited staffing.

In fact, according to Skilled Nursing News, home health care agency referral rejection rates hit an “all-time high” of 76% from December 2022 to January 2023. That’s a staggering rate, and there are little signs it will improve in the next few years. 

In the face of these challenges, home health care agencies can’t compromise their relationships with health care referral partners. These partnerships will remain the lifeblood of agencies and would be costly to lose and try to restore.  

Here are communications your agency should prioritize to build and maintain connections with your healthcare referral partners even when capacity is limited:

  1. Patient opening announcements 
    Being transparent about your capacity is being a good partner. A notification banner on your website is a great way to indicate whether your agency is accepting referrals or not, especially if availability is limited. If you can take on more patients, an email push might be more appropriate to alert your partners.
  2. Your brand promise and qualifications
    In your communications to referral partners, remember to provide information that can keep your agency top of mind as a quality provider so they feel confident referring to you when you do have openings. Important information includes:

    1. Quality and Performance Data: Celebrate outcomes by sharing data on your agency’s performance, including patient satisfaction scores, readmission rates, and clinical metrics that demonstrate the effectiveness of your services, such as reduced hospital readmissions, improved patient mobility, or better pain management. Use clear and visually appealing graphics, charts, or infographics to present outcomes.

    2. Case Studies and Testimonials: Share specific case studies or patient testimonials that illustrate successful clinical outcomes. Highlight the patient’s journey, challenges faced, and how your services made a difference.

    3. Qualifications and Expertise: Emphasize the qualifications and expertise of your clinical staff. Showcase their certifications, training, and experience.

    4. Your mission: Keep your mission statement and values visible throughout your communications, explicitly or implicitly in the stories and information you share. Your mission is what makes your agency emotionally connect to others and keeps referral partners invested in your agency’s well-being.
  3. Requests for employee referrals
    Your agency needs more nurses, right? Well, make sure your communications promote staff openings and requests for referrals. Your referral partners may know or encounter a nurse who is suited or desires at-home nursing roles.
  4. Education for families
    Your agency holds a lot of information that is valuable to patients and their families. Your agency needs to remain a go-to resource for home health care issues regardless of the circumstances to maintain a reputation built on trust and experience.

    Ensure your educational materials are visible to referral partners, so they can share them with others.

    If your agency is just getting started in developing useful content, here are some topics you can write about that are important to patients and their loved ones:
    1. Self-Care: Caregivers often neglect their well-being. Prioritize self-care to maintain physical and emotional health, ensuring you have the energy and resilience to provide care.

    2. Plan and Organize: Create a care plan that outlines the person’s needs, medications, appointments, and preferences. Keep important documents, like medical records and legal papers, organized.

    3. Safety Measures: Ensure the home environment is safe, with necessary modifications to prevent accidents or falls. Install handrails, remove tripping hazards, and use assistive devices if needed.

    4. Financial Planning: Understand the financial aspects of caregiving, including insurance coverage, long-term care options, and available benefits or assistance programs.

    5. Stress Management: Practice stress-relief techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or deep breathing exercises to manage caregiver stress.

    6. End-of-Life Planning: If relevant, discuss end-of-life preferences and document advance directives to ensure the person’s wishes are respected.
  5. Organizational updates
    As your agency updates its practices to adapt to the evolving health care landscape – new staff, board members, updates to programs and services, etc. – make sure your referral partners are alerted. They must know your agency is moving forward to meet patient and family needs, especially if your agency might not be in a position to help them directly by taking on new patients.

Nursing shortages will present challenges for home health agencies for the next several years some analysts predict. As your agency works to be the employer of choice in a competitive staffing environment, these communications strategies will ensure that staffing instability minimizes your agency’s risk of losing referral partners’ business when circumstances allow.