The home health industry employs millions of specialized caregivers who drive billions of miles, providing hundreds of millions of visits per year. In addition, the news from coast to coast is filled with alarming stories about caregiver labor shortages. The industry is a perfect match for advanced, location-aware logistics. Yet relatively few agencies have implemented software designed to optimize routing and scheduling of visits.

Why aren’t more home health agencies using location-aware scheduling software to slash drive time and provide more and better care to their communities? To shed much-needed light on this question, we reviewed the root causes of numerous logistics projects that didn’t work out and others that did. We derived a set of recommendations to help you feel confident in extracting all the value promised by logistics solutions for home health.

1. Avoid traditional logistics software: Home health is too complex

Many home health agencies have been tempted to use a generic logistics solution for scheduling and routing — treating clinicians like delivery drivers. Such projects fail because of the false assumption that software designed for package delivery can also handle the multi-dimensional complexities of home health fulfillment. 

Ensure that your selection process addresses these questions:

  • Consider your clinicians’ daily service model. Can the proposed software accommodate clinicians starting and ending their days at different locations, such as home or work? 
  • Can the software accommodate personalized break periods and varied working hours for the clinicians?
  • Can the software accommodate unlimited different types of visits that can only be performed by specific types of clinicians (such as wound care, speech therapy and social work)?
  • Can the software take into account patients’ requests for clinician gender, language and any other personalized requirements?
  • Does the software provide not only today’s best route but also location-aware optimized scheduling of future visit assignments?

2. Know that route optimization and schedule optimization are different

Many agencies equip their clinicians with a mobile app that maps the best routes from one visit to another, and some apps automatically calculate the mileage reimbursement. Some agencies go a step further and employ technology that calculates the most efficient route for each clinician for their entire day. These efforts are good starting points on a journey to efficiency.

Yet these projects fail to deliver transformational time and mileage savings. Clinicians still drive past each other all day long from one end of town to the other. Schedulers still struggle to get all of tomorrow’s visits assigned. Managers still wonder whether they really can take “just one more” referral that came in.

A sad truth emerges: Agencies that have successfully incorporated solutions for automatically calculating today’s best routes and mileage still know there has to be a better way to schedule for tomorrow.

Ask these questions:

  • Can the software evaluate all of tomorrow’s visit locations and clinician locations and availability to calculate the most efficient recommended route assignments?
  • Can the software evaluate future visit locations and clinicians across multiple days to optimize visit assignment recommendations beyond just one day?
  • Can the software provide easy configuration to balance optimization against other strategic needs such as continuity of care? Agency managers may not want to maximize optimization if that means other strategic priorities will lose focus.

3. The only constant is change

An elegant and beautifully optimized schedule becomes nothing more than wall art at 8:05AM if it can’t adapt to the changes that start popping up soon after sunrise. Our analysis identified several projects that appeared promising but fell apart when they proved incapable of accommodating the volume of daily changes typical at a busy agency.

Be sure that your logistics software can accommodate visit and clinician changes easily in real time, without sacrificing optimization.

Ask these questions:

  • How does the software calculate the best clinician to fill a new visit that just popped up for today? Is the recommendation location-aware — or only matching attributes?
  • How does the software handle reassigning visits if a clinician calls in sick?
  • How does the software handle a cancelled visit by a patient?

4. Use flexibility to future-proof

The best solution provides a high degree of flexibility and easily accommodates changing requirements, whether those arise from evolving agency strategies or new government regulations. 

Consider whether a best-in-breed point solution might provide better value than a built-in module of your EHR. With your EHR, most likely adaptability is limited and cost is high, since the cost of switching EHR vendors is even higher. Also, be wary of EHR vendors who claim to offer “optimized scheduling and routing” — while in reality their software offers little more than daily route ordering and suggestions for clinicians that happen to have an open slot.

In the long run, a best-in-breed solution will cost you far less and provide far greater benefits to your organization. As well, should you choose to switch EHRs in the future, you can take your scheduling software with you. 

Ask these questions:

  • Does the solution allow easy addition of new visit types, new clinician attributes and new patient attributes?
  • Does the solution factor these attributes into schedule recommendations along with geographic proximity data?
  • Does the solution allow easy creation of new workflows and dependencies?
  • Does the solution integrate easily with any EHR?

5. Bring it all home

Location-aware AI scheduling can provide enormous benefits to your organization along multiple dimensions:

  • cost reduction
  • capacity increase/productivity gain
  • clinician satisfaction improvement
  • clinician retention improvement
  • carbon footprint reduction

Adhering to these guidelines during your selection process will reduce your project risks and lead you to measurable long-term benefits for your organization, your employees and the patients you serve.

Matt Willson is an advocate of machine learning and a founder of Homecare Intelligence Inc., the leading provider of location-aware logistics software for the home care industry.