From Andy (June 7, 2010; see the whole post here):
CEO Column: Beating the Competition Even When It Bends (or Breaks) the Rules
In parts of the country where growth of for-profit home health and hospice agencies is rampant, nonprofit providers are deeply worried. With a long and proud history of doing the right thing for their communities, they have learned over the years that many newcomers play fast and loose with the rules and adopt business and clinical shortcuts in order to maximize profits and drive legitimate agencies out of business.
When last month the Wall Street Journal ran stories on therapy billing practices of the four largest publicly traded home health companies, many of us felt vindicated and pleased that the tide might be turning and that the playing field might finally be leveled.
From where I sit in Washington, though, I think it would be a mistake to count on law enforcement agencies, Congressional investigators, or regulators to bring lasting order and fair competition to the Wild West chaos that often dominates home health. Given the many pressures on Federal resources, do we really think there will ever be enough “cops” to police this beat? Given the money to be made by profiteers and thieves in places like Dade County, Florida, many of them are more than happy to face the slight risk of prosecution. Even tripling the number of investigators wouldn’t make a dent.
And even if the fraud and abuse came to an abrupt end, do we really think we can consistently win in the home health marketplace against competitors with seemingly infinite advertising and business development budgets and marketing strategies focused entirely on highly profitable cases?
For that matter, are we even competing in the same market? Nonprofit agencies are serving the needs of their communities, not their investors. Instead of a narrow, profitable swath of the market, we take on the whole community, and in so doing we’re carrying a weight the competition will never carry. To capitalize on that reality, we need to work everyday to position ourselves as the preferred provider for referral sources and the agency of choice for patients. Our mission can be parlayed into a solution for referral sources as we remain patient-centric and focus on a breadth of high quality services.
So, how do you implement that mantra? Some VNAA members are confronting the competition with world-class referral development programs of their own, showing referral sources the depth and range of their clinical programs and highlighting their outcome scores in comparison to other agencies. They are attempting to win by offering the best services while being good stewards of the community’s resources through the adoption of technologies and streamlining of operations. They are also winning patients over by providing exceptional care, timely and responsive follow-up to patient satisfaction surveys and offering post-episode services that help cultivate “customers for life.”
There’s also a growing segment of our membership that is simply deciding to play a different game – specifically, a game they have a far better chance of winning. Rather than competing solely for the Medicare certified home health business, they’re re-introducing themselves in their markets as partners in reducing and preventing re-hospitalizations and managing chronic conditions.