Guest Column | October 26, 2015

Technology Will Help Senior Care Facilities Manage The Tide Of The Growing Elder Population

Accenture Survey: Seniors Want Online Access To Digital Health

By Dave Wessinger, CTO, PointClickCare

EHR systems might be a topic of sharp debate in the halls of the U.S. Congress this year, but there’s no denying one facet of the issue: These data systems are an automation lifeline that can help the healthcare system weather a coming influx of patients that already has started.

Despite the uptick in technology adoption by the healthcare industry overall, the implementation of health IT (HIT) in the senior care market is lagging behind in comparison to the rest of the healthcare market sectors. Long-term and skilled nursing facilities with EHR systems are seeing their benefits such as smoother transitions of care, staffing efficiencies and exchanging data between hospitals and physicians.

So, despite the need for sophisticated health IT software to handle patient data generated by senior patients, why is the senior care industry slower to adopt these new capabilities? We can trace this to misconceptions about many things, most commonly concerns around cost and the belief that implementing an EHR will be disruptive to business.

Furthermore, there’s federal policy influencing EHR adoption. The meaningful use EHR incentive program fosters HIT adoption, even though long-term care and skilled nursing organizations aren’t themselves yet eligible for incentive funds. Implementing an EHR platform helps a senior care provider support the meaningful use goals of the hospitals and physicians they work with, so it becomes an investment in more productive relationships with key care partners.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced that by 2018 it would be implementing a value-based payment programs for senior care facilities that is the current standard for other providers who have EHRs. The data-intensive documentation need to receive reimbursements will require senior care to implement EHRs.

Sharing Data Is The Cure
EHRs ultimately benefit the patient. Comorbidities, as we know, make senior care more complex than typical patients in younger demographics. To illustrate the trends in healthcare IT for the senior market, let’s consider an 80-year-old woman suffering from both diabetes (COPD) and congestive heart failure. Her senior living assistant suggests she visit her primary care physician (PCP) about her shortness of breath. The PCP then refers her to a pulmonologist for further testing. By the time that patient finally sees the appropriate provider for just one of her two conditions, she has already obtained clinical data from three separate healthcare providers.

Most of the larger, national senior care organizations have implemented EHRs. But few smaller, independent providers have followed suit. While it may not seem like a major issue to have multiple pieces of clinical data being exported into one patient’s file, the fact is that the senior housing sector has been continuously trailing behind other areas of healthcare in technology adoption.

Judging by recent news reports featuring American Medical Association physicians, it’s clear that many healthcare providers believe EHR platforms are expensive and overly complex. The reality is that without enabling technology, critical functions of care delivery documentation and medical data collection will continue to be impeded by inefficient, time-consuming, error-prone paper workflows. In other words, not using the technology will prove to be more expensive in terms of efficiency and outcomes.

Moreover, healthcare providers can be skeptical of new technologies. To convince them of the value of EHRs, it’s important they have access to the right tools and adequate training to make HIT implementations successful. It is imperative that they know how the new solution will help them do their jobs better, improve outcomes and keep their organizations healthy in the long run.

Mobile Cloud EHR Access An Enabling Technology
Cloud-based EHRs are scalable, cost-effective and interoperable. They are built on flexible technology that can guide senior care providers still stuck in paper workflows – or whose on-site EHR implementation has become too cumbersome to support – into the next evolution of digital health records. Cloud systems allow for central data collections and documentation of care delivery and medication management. They also make forms and documentation adaptable for the different team members responsible for resident care or business administration. This flexibility will help providers adopt tools to better manage rising acuity levels as well as increasing patient loads.

Making an EHR accessible in the cloud opens up new vistas of care efficiency. For example, wellness coordinators can use iPads or smartphones to provide updates on changes in a resident’s condition and acuity. That data is recorded directly at the point of care, securely stored with HIPAA-grade encryption. When the right people have access to the right information at the right time – and can act on it without delay – they can make better care decisions and promise safer transitions of care.

This technology enables communication between desktop computers and mobile devices, improving patient care and communications among clinicians. Secure, HIPAA-compliant texting also allows physicians and clinical staff to correspond and collaborate on patient care regardless of location, further streamlining and enhancing the quality of patient care delivery while protecting patient privacy.

HIT Can Ease Transition To Larger Senior Population
Setting aside for a moment the issues of technology-aiding reimbursement as well as the general keeping up with the greater healthcare universe, senior care needs these current data systems to cope with the continuing growth of its patient population: Thanks to advances in modern medicine, people are living longer and healthier lives. It’s no surprise that seniors in their 80s are the fastest-growing patient demographic, and with the sheer number of people in the baby-boomer generation, by 2030, one in five Americans will be over the age of 65.

However, with this longevity comes a rise in chronic health conditions, resulting in more trips to the doctor and more patient transfers between senior care and acute care providers. These patients will grow their health IT footprint and access data networks more frequently as their healthcare needs increase.

As we begin to manage the demographic shift in the senior population, we know technology is a necessity in promoting the efficiency that this coming “perfect storm” will require. Technology supports us; it sustains quality and operational objectives. Technology helps elevate the ability of the senior living industry to streamline workflows, lower the cost of care delivery, and improve care coordination and outcomes.

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