Business Solutions: Data

The Brains of Your Business

Providers create, collect and record incomprehensibly large amounts of data that can benefit their business. How have they been leveraging it, what are some best practices, and how will its use expand and improve?

head with data coming out

Photo © lightsource/depositphotos.com

In the course of a day, an HME provider collects a treasure trove of data: billing data, patient data, sales data, inventory data, etc. Extend that out a week, and the information collected becomes hard to imagine. Multiply that by a month or a year, and it becomes obvious that providers are sitting on a wealth of intelligence regarding their business that is almost beyond evaluation.

Fortunately, the software systems and services that HME providers use helps them track, monitor and apply that information. And over the years, those systems have grown more and more powerful and feature-rich in terms of helping them better understand their businesses and then use that business intelligence to improve operational efficiencies, deliver better care, drive new revenues, pursue new opportunities, and drive unnecessary costs from their budgets.

But the industry’s use of its data is an evolving story. At first, the big development was customizable reports, then the ability to track performance against aggregate industry benchmarks, then real-time performance dashboards.

WHERE THINGS STAND; WHERE THEY’RE GOING

Gail Turner, HME Sales Consultant for industry software supplier Computers Unlimited (www.cu.net), which makes TIMS software, has been with her company for three decades and has watched HME’s data monitoring evolution unfold.

“Fundamentally, data monitoring was really just measuring the performance of the past,” she says. “Then … the concept of dashboard became very popular. And that provided at-a-glance, visual information, to help you see you were doing all right, doing great, or maybe had some problem areas on certain key metrics.”

And those views weren’t just for c-level execs. Mid-level managers started using dashboards to see how their department or location was doing, and even staffers could start using data monitoring tools to prioritize their workloads.

“I think that the dashboards were designed to give you a more relevant, timely take on information,” Turner explains. “But data monitoring has changed; it definitely has. And in turn, we’re leveraging data to organize work on a regular basis. So it’s kind of being used on a tactical level: ‘I’m coming to work, and what am I going to work on today?’”

So, if the industry’s past data monitoring has gone from looking at the past to the here and now, then the future of HME’s monitoring and use of its data is, well … the future.

“As a whole, our industry does a great job at descriptive and diagnostic analytics – or explaining what and why something has happened,” says Fadi Haddad, director of analytics for HME software company Brightree LLC (brightree.com). “Areas that we lag in are true predictive and prescriptive analytics. This is where Brightree is focusing its efforts today and is providing capabilities to predict what is likely to happen, when, and recommend actions.

“Think about the idea of an HME being able to predict areas of their business that are lagging or even performing well before it happens,” he adds.

And that means understanding the past activity of the business, the present activity, and being able to analyze the parameters that will define the future of the business. Resupply makes for a good example, according to Turner.

“You can anticipate what your workload is going to be in the future by analyzing the past,” she says. “With resupply, for example, if you have all that information that lives native in your software, or with an outside solution, you can kind of predict what you will need to fulfill. And you can also predict what you need, in terms of billing.

“So if the patients are going to, coming up against resupply windows that are provided by the payer once every six months or once every three months, your software system probably houses all the needed information,” Turner continues. “Are the patients eligible? Are there valid authorizations? Is there valid documentation to support this resupply? Are there valid payer requirements? All of that can be done ahead of time and you can work it in advance so that there are no gaps in fulfilling and servicing your patient.”

And on the dollars and cents side of the business, the provider can then start to visualize how that might look in terms of operational costs and projected revenues or reimbursement.

“You don’t know what’s going to actually happen, but you can at least forecast some potential,” Turner explains. “And, of course, over time, you can kind of measure that as well. This is what the potential was, this is what the results were and you can obviously translate that into some type of factor.”

LEVERAGING EXTERNAL DATA

Of course, monitoring a provider’s business, operational and billing data is critical, but it’s not the only data. Now the industry is seeing other data resources becoming available and those are being integrated with a company’s internal performance data to find even more efficiencies and opportunities.

Case example: HME sales. The industry is now seeing companies such as PlayMaker Health (www.playmakerhealth.com) provide specific, actionable data on providers’ local markets to help them develop more business with a wider array of referral sources. That’s positively revolutionary and will shape the “new normal” going forward for HME sales professionals, says Ty Bello, CEO of HME sales coaching and consulting firm Team@Work (teamatworkcoaching.com).

“Data came on the marketplace specifically for us, for our business sector, and it’s really changed everything,” he says.

This too has been an evolution. The collection and use of third-party data in healthcare sales has made its way to HME via somewhat of a trickle-down method. Claims and referral data based on specific codes and disease process has been collected and used in industries such as pharmaceuticals for 20 to 25 years. Now it’s made it to our corner of post-acute care and it’s grown all the more reliable.

Where HME sales professional once might have intuited how much business could be derived from a referral source, now they can actually know.

“This has become very advantageous for us to now have it,” Bello says. “And today we have an accuracy rate that is much better than it was before. We have a specific pool of data that are from multiple sources, and it’s also coming now more frequently than it ever has before. So the data is more up to date than it has been in the past. You’ve got clearing houses involved in this, as well.

“It’s a very, very rich opportunity to change that subjectivity to objectivity,” he continues. “Now we know what that doctor actually does, and we know how much he or she does, and we know who the competitors are that are currently getting that book of business.”

Already it’s helping sales reps do a better job of prospecting:

“Right now, data will absolutely help the individual sales professional take a more specific, targeted approach than they’ve ever been able to before,” Bello says. “You can then prioritize the accounts that you should be calling on, and even not calling on because their volume is significantly lower than you thought it was.”

And when you marry market intelligence with internal sales data, even stronger insights can be found.

“For example, in working with a company, we looked through all of the data and we discovered there were several doctors that were on the lists that they were already getting referrals from,” Bello says. “Fantastic. But now the lightbulb goes off: they were getting significantly fewer referrals than they thought they were getting. The majority of the referrals were going to their competition.

“So now I’ve got the opportunity as a sales professional to work and to try to earn greater trust from that office because now I know what the real number is, and I could use that to my advantage to grow that base referral source,” he explains.

GETTING STARTED

Of course, as the use of data continues to evolve in the industry, not every provider has kept pace with it. For providers looking to remain competitive in terms of using their data, it starts by asking a simple question, according to Brightree’s Haddad.

“Every HME should ask themselves what does a good day look like to me?” he says. “What are the supporting key performance indicators (KPIs) that you can track? And how are you leveraging your data to make sure your business is on track?”

In other words, the provider needs to start defining the parameters of their success based on the metrics that apply best to how they run their business.

“Depending on what part of your business you are tracking, there could be different KPIs to monitor,” Haddad explains. “If you are looking at Revenue Cycle, you may want to track your AR, Outstanding Sales Orders and Denials. For a patient resupply program, tracking patient retention and attrition are key areas. Most importantly, you want to keep a pulse on your patient experience as that is an area you can truly differentiate yourself from your peers.”

Other KPIs could be more operational, but still tied to bottomline performance. These might include metrics around inventory, a major overhead element, according to Turner.

“You can look at your stock levels, you can look at inventory turns, you can look at rental asset utilization and efficiency,” she says. “Some providers don’t even consider inventory control as a part of their business. I mean, I think in general terms that everybody does, but maybe you can influence that a little bit more than you’re doing today.

“And of course, you can also look other measurements, such as team performance, worker performance,” she adds.” Or, you can look at performance surrounding HCPC code.”

Of course, that also means a provider needs the right tools.

“I think it’s really important that you’re using a modern software platform, so that you are gathering, event logging and tracking actions or activities, workflows, work states — however your software system is designed,” Turner says. “And that information is being gathered and leveraged correctly. So if data on its own doesn’t provide an advantage, then data leveraged correctly can potentially provide an advantage.”

That said, while HME providers might be on individual journeys, there are some best practices providers can employ when monitoring and using their data.

“Establish a data-driven culture within your organization,” Haddad says. “If one already exists, ensure you have clear data and analytics objectives. Whether that is working towards a single source of truth or developing forward looking KPIs. The goal should be to learn how to leverage your data as an asset and make sure KPIs are universally accepted and adhered to throughout your organization.”

“Another thing, it’s important to benchmark,” Turner says. “Evaluate performance according to these benchmarks, and adjust the benchmarks if you need to. And continuously evaluate, identify where you can improve, you noticed that continuous process improvement.”

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of HME Business.

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