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Market Watch - Home Health Care

A glimpse inside an expanding sector.

Don’t get her wrong – Kathy Nickerson loves her father. But when it comes to managing his needs 24 hours a day as a Parkinson’s patient, Nickerson, who has a thriving business as a psychologist and certified life coach, simply can’t be at her father’s constant beck and call. Nor would he want her to be.

“On the one hand, he knows he needs the help,” says Nickerson. “He’s aware that he can’t do his laundry, that he can’t really walk into the garage and grab paper towels. At the same time, he resents that he needs it. He wishes he didn’t have the disease.”

Faced with hard choices, Nickerson and her two siblings finally turned to a home health- care company in Lake Forest, CA, looking for help. For everyone’s sake, it seems it was the right decision. “The caregivers have just been lifesavers,” Nickerson says.

A Booming Industry

Nickerson’s father is in good company. More than 12 million people in the U.S. now receive home care – either medical or non-medical – each year, according to the National Association for Home Care & Hospice. And experts agree that number will likely rise dramatically over the next few decades. “It is exploding in a sense,” says Phil Bongiorno, executive director of the Home Care Association of America (HCAA), in Washington, D.C.

By 2030, Americans 65 and older, who are the biggest consumers of home health-care services, will number 72 million, making up 20% of the population. That’s up from 40 million in 2010, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics, an agency that compiles data about older Americans.

Companies like Caring Senior Service are witnessing first-hand the effects of an aging population. With 51 offices in 18 states, the 22-year-old company has realized growth of greater than 20% for the past five years, says Jeff Salter, CEO and founder of the San Antonio, TX-based company. And the market’s growing with them, Salter adds. “What’s changed is the number of companies providing this type of service,” he says.

There’s a reason for the increased competition. Baby boomers, many of whom are still in their 60s, could become clients for home health-care companies over the next two decades. Established medical firms and eager entrepreneurs see opportunity – and there’s a lot to go around. Salter believes that his company’s double-digit growth will extend well into the future.

But it’s not just traditional home health-care providers that are growing. More specialized companies are making gains as well, like Feinberg Consulting, a care coordination firm based in West Bloomfield, MI. Feinberg provides a different level of care, helping senior citizens and people recovering from injuries to manage their daily lives both in and out of their homes. For example, Feinberg staff will drive clients to doctor’s appointments and offer support following an office visit.

“Most people with extended home care needs really can’t communicate what their losses are, what their symptoms are, and the doctors are only in there for 15 minutes and don’t have a full picture of what’s happening outside of the office,” says Pam Feinberg-Rivkin, the company’s founder and CEO. “We’re able to pull that together to provide a more holistic approach.”

More at Home

Certainly, today’s medical advancements are allowing people to live longer. But technology is also playing a role in providing home health-care services for patients who undergo routine surgeries – particularly those who prefer to take what rehab they can home, rather than recuperating in a hospital. Another health-care industry firm, ProPrioSense Holdings, uses interactive technology in people’s homes to collect key data. One of its devices works like a Wii controller and determines whether rehab movements, like squats and lunges, are done to the right degree.

“One aspect of this will be an extension of physical therapy so you can do it at home,” sending recorded exercise data back to therapists to see how patients are progressing, says Dr. Kevin Stone, an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic in San Francisco.

While technology is certainly changing, so is the entire landscape of medicine and patient recovery, largely because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Bobby Grajewski, president of Charlotte-based Edison Nation Medical, works specifically with Carolinas Healthcare System to support medical equipment inventions. With inventor submissions arriving from more than 180 countries, creators of medical devices are recognizing the ACA’s push to treat people more holistically and preventively as opposed to treating “episodes,” as Grajewski calls them – like heart attacks.

With that industry shift comes more in-home monitoring to prevent major health issues and long-term stays in hospitals. “There are people with disabilities that are really at a level of independent home-care living versus living in an institution,” says HCAA’s Bongiorno. That push “from the hospital to the home,” is one of the main reasons the home health market is expanding so rapidly, according to Grajewski.

A Practical Pitch

More than ever, home health-care companies need to develop a unique brand identity to win market share, says Richard Basch, president of SYNERGY HomeCare. “We do a lot of traditional brochures, counter cards and then little goodies and things, like coffee mugs, the whole spectrum” of promotional materials, says Basch of the Gilbert, AZ-based company that has 260 franchises nationwide.

And while referrals may still be a company’s greatest lead-generator, marketing campaigns to doctors, hospitals, attorneys, social workers and others who help coordinate home health care are becoming increasingly common, say industry insiders.

So what types of promo products work best? For end-users like Nickerson, branded clipboards are used and appreciated. “We did get a clipboard from one of the companies and also got a pen and a folder,” she says. “What I found to be the most valuable were items that helped us communicate with the caregivers and with each other.” A binder with reference materials and patient notes is an item Nickerson says her family still uses regularly and would have made a great marketing tool had it been branded.

So-called one-to-one marketing is just part of the branding scene within the home health-care industry. There are a host of annual networking and business-building opportunities at events and trade shows as well. Plus, a multitude of franchising home health-care companies means plenty of local markets need branding help, Bongiorno says. Increased online branding also means more home health-care companies – from service providers to equipment suppliers – are entering the market via the Web, says Craig Hood, executive vice president and founder of Allegro Medical, based in Bolingbrook, IL.

With e-commerce a driving factor, the marketplace “is now wide open,” says Hood, adding that his company’s annual growth is upwards of 8%. Promotional products, he says, have been a big part of that growth. Allegro has used “magnets, pens, notepads, stickers, flashlights, lanyards, anything you can think of that you would see around a health-care worker,” Hood says, to reach hospitals, case managers and discharge planners.

That’s smart, believes Rodger Roeser, CEO of The Eisen Agency, a PR and marketing consultancy based in Newport, KY, whose company works frequently with home health-care agencies. While end-users are eager for home health services, rising above the plethora of available service providers can be a tough proposition for firms in today’s marketplace. End-users just have so many choices. “You have all these home health groups – there are hundreds of them,” Roeser says. “The question becomes which one do you pick?”

At the local franchise level, Roeser says many franchisees “have a significant level of autonomy in how they’re making determinations to spend ad dollars.” The key to pitching them is to understand their niche and approach within the local marketplace, he adds. A successful campaign might include everything from direct-mail pieces to displaying promotional materials at wellness centers or even product giveaways at local restaurants that seniors frequent.