Health IT’s Impact on an Aging Population

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How technology can improve and promote efficiency in senior care

Now is the time for healthcare providers to strengthen their data systems in an effort to improve transitions of care and data exchange when it comes to senior care.

This population has been underserved in the healthcare information technology (HIT) revolution, something that has taken place since the federal passage of Meaningful Use electronic health record (EHR) incentives in 2010. Add to that a shift in patient demographics, which combined with HIT initiatives, is creating a “perfect storm” that could overwhelm senior care organizations.

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.

Senior patients – and their insurers – will demand better, smoother transitions of care than today’s providers have the ability to perform. Why? Health IT lags in the senior care market despite the uptick in technology adoption by the healthcare industry overall. Fortunately, we are seeing some organizations turning the corner to improve outcomes, and enhance financial performance and staff optimization.

Why Senior Care is Slow to Adopt EHRs

To illustrate the trends in healthcare IT for the senior market, let’s consider a 78-year-old man suffering from both chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and high blood pressure. His senior living assistant suggests he visit his primary care physician (PCP) about his persistent coughing and wheezing. The PCP then refers him to a pulmonologist for further testing. By the time that patient finally sees the appropriate provider for just one of his two conditions, he has already obtained clinical data from three separate healthcare providers.

While it may not seem like a major issue to have multiple pieces of clinical data 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. Most of the larger, national senior care organizations have implemented electronic medical records, but few smaller, independent providers have followed suit.

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.

While 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.

Cloud-based EHRs Move the Needle

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 collection 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.

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.

The federal Meaningful Use EHR incentive program also plays a role in 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.

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.

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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About Author

Dave Wessinger

Dave Wessinger serves as the chief technology officer of PointClickCare.

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