- This past year continued the healthcare trends of recent years with significant ongoing change in the industry, particularly in senior care and the need for long-term care EHR technology and care coordination tools.
The increase in the number of people approaching retirement age is putting pressure on healthcare costs and the senior care industry is directly impacted. The business and service-provider model for the senior living sector, and specifically the senior living sector, is changing rapidly. Just look at programs such as age in place as an example.
With the profound increase in the number of Americans becoming senior citizens and turning to some form of long-term care during their lives, the senior care landscape is undergoing fundamental transformations. Seniors are increasingly entering care facilities at a more advanced age with more complex health care needs. This trend, dubbed “the acuity conundrum,” is one that has become increasingly top of mind for many senior living organizations over the past year.
Facilities which underestimate the impacts of the acuity conundrum do so at their own risk. High acuity residents can require changes in staffing and documentation to ensure adequate care for this new type of resident. More complex care ultimately results in the need for systems to support more complex compliance obligations. However, since long-term care providers do not yet qualify for meaningful use incentives, EHR adoption rates are slower than at hospitals and physician practices.
Another challenge occurs when a resident’s care is transitioned between acute care and long-term care providers. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has acknowledged this as a significant challenge and is addressing issues and establishing standards and solutions for long-term care providers. Great senior care depends upon integrating data with effective and consistent communication to those in the immediate network of a facility’s care continuum. Technology not only expedites this communication but in many cases dramatically reduces errors and delays that are prevalent in paper-based transactions.
The senior living industry has been trailing other areas of healthcare in terms of technology adoption. There is an opportunity for our industry to learn from what has and hasn’t worked in terms of business, technology and regulatory requirements.
Here are some observations on how we can start to address the acuity conundrum and improve long-term care delivery:
Providers must put place greater emphasis on re-aligning their business models to support higher acuity levels. This can be done with more clinically oriented staffing models and technology solutions that support a focus on quality outcomes and regulatory compliance.
Compared to single-purpose or “standalone” software solutions, integrated software platforms have the advantage of optimizing multiple or all core functions of the business, from enabling better-connected resident care and documentation to delivering high-quality data insights for resident outcome analysis, financial planning and risk mitigation. Connecting all aspects of resident care and business operations is a prerequisite for solving the acuity conundrum.
A person/patient-centered care approach
Not only does having an EHR platform in a senior care environment improves resident care, boosts staff productivity, and gives providers better visibility into resident needs, but most importantly it also provides a documented person-centric approach to care. This means health-related information follows the resident and places emphasis on quality and health outcomes, enabling care providers and their partners to rely on the most up-to-date information across care settings.
Intelligence, workflow and mobility — anytime, anywhere
New mobile and cloud-based technologies allow centralized data collection and documentation of care delivery, medication management, and other important functions. Healthcare practitioners have found new and easy ways to get quick answers to health-related questions, such as a nurse sending a text message to a physician for guidance on a resident issue.
Secure, HIPAA-compliant texting now allows physicians and clinical staff to communicate and collaborate on resident care via mobile devices, deeming their physical location or access to a computer moot. It also reduces errors associated with paperwork and other manual processes while increasing confidence in decision-making. Other forms of secure communication are also emerging. For example, EHR technology enables communication between desktop computers and mobile devices, expanding the real-time communication capabilities between healthcare providers regardless of the setting.
As the healthcare industry evolves, there will be a greater need for interoperability which will enable providers to make the best decisions for the resident and/or patient to support transitions of care across the care continuum. Long-term care providers must become better integrated, better connected and more streamlined with their partners in care.
The right technology strategy is the key to solving the challenges of the rising acuity conundrum with a connected and truly resident-centric approach to senior care.
Dave Wessinger, co-founder and chief technology officer at PointClickCare, has worked in the senior care information technology industry for over 20 years. He is actively involved in many industry associations and advocacy efforts including, CPAC, NASL, AHCA IT, CAST and ONC.