Use health education as a marketing tool

Agencies can increase services via partnerships

As the population ages and the needs of seniors change, home health managers are looking for ways to make their services more applicable to today’s senior population. One way to expand services and increase the visibility of your home health agency is to form partnerships or relationships with other organizations in the community.

It’s much easier for private-duty agencies to establish partnerships with assisted-living facilities because rules related to anti-kickback statutes don’t apply, says Karon Austin, MPA, RN, CHCE, a home care consultant and owner of Healthcare Concepts in Avon, CO. "During my 21 years as an owner of a private duty home care company, I was able to establish several relationships with assisted-living facilities," she says.

Her arrangements actually specified her agency as the preferred provider when the assisted-living facility needed to refer to a home care agency. While Medicare-certified agencies are unable to establish the same type of formal agreement, there are a number of ways that all home care agencies can establish relationships, she explains.

"One of the services we provided to our assisted-living facility partners was a monthly educational program in which we provided speakers on a variety of topics of interest to the facility’s clients," Austin continues. "We would present topics on health issues such as osteoporosis and Medicare coverage topics, such as benefits for wheelchairs, canes, or other durable medical equipment," she says. "We also provided cholesterol screenings and coordinated annual health fairs."

Speakers for the educational programs and the health fairs can be a mix of agency nurses with expertise in certain areas, representatives from vendors such as durable medical equipment providers, and medical personnel such as podiatrists or dentists from the local area. "We never charged the clients for the seminars, and we never paid fees to any of the speakers," Austin says.

There was, however, never a lack of willing volunteers to speak, especially when local health care providers and physicians learned about the program and saw it as an excellent way to establish a connection with an audience that would most likely need their services at some point, she adds.

Before finalizing any agreement to provide health fairs or educational programs at an assisted-living facility, be sure to have an attorney review the agreement for violations of state and federal anti-kickback regulations, suggests John Gilliland, an Indianapolis-based attorney. Basically, a home health agency cannot promise a free service such as an educational program in exchange for a promise of referrals, he explains. The laws differ from state to state, with some state regulations being even tougher than federal regulations, so each agency needs to have its agreements evaluated, Gilliland says.

It also is important to make sure the assisted-living facility has a policy that gives preference to patient choice when choosing a home care agency, and that the facility follows its policy. This gives a Medicare-certified home health agency an extra measure of protection against charges of kickback violations, he says.

For more information on using health education as a marketing tool, contact:

• Karon Austin, MPA, RN, CHCE, Owner, Healthcare Concepts, P.O. Box 2555, Avon, CO 81620. Telephone: (800) 352-3910. E-mail: Web:

• John Gilliland, Gilliland & Caudill, 3905 Vincennes Road, Suite 204, Indianapolis, IN 46268. Telephone: (317) 704-2400. Fax: (317) 704-2410. E-mail: