The older we get, the more care we need — and the more care providers must be involved. According to one estimate, 20% of the total federal health care cost is generated by those 65 and above. A second survey shows that 30% of seniors benefit from some sort of care coordination, while others feel isolated from their friends, family and providers. While newer technologies are solving data access and sharing problems, many senior care providers have been slow to implement these technologies. Their resulting inability to communicate with other health care providers adds significantly to the complexity, higher cost and lower quality of senior care. The good news? It is about to change.
It may come as a surprise to many that one of the most commonly used pieces of technology in senior care is the fax machine. That’s correct. The fax machine came into mainstream use in the late 1980s and hasn’t changed much since then. It is still one of the most popular methods of sharing information between care providers, pharmacies, hospitals, therapists and doctors. In fact, the machine accounts for roughly 75% of all medical communication. The fundamental shortcoming of the fax is that it is a point-to-point communication. It is worse than a phone, with which you can conference with multiple people. There are several innovative companies like Medsender, Sfax and Doximity that are on a mission to replace these faxes with online solutions.
The lack of care coordination in senior care (and health care at large) is often because the systems they widely use have serious limitations. Most are client-server based and installed on-premise behind firewalls. Enabling access and sharing the data in these systems securely and in real time is not just difficult but in some cases impossible. With data contained in the cloud, systems can share data more securely and efficiently. This advantage gives us a glimpse (and hope) of a future with highly coordinated practices.
Technology vendors historically have had no incentive to share a senior’s health or wellness data with others. It perhaps benefited them to keep this data within their own siloed systems. In recent years, however, multiple factors forced them to do otherwise. CMS penalties (e.g., hospital readmissions) and new Medicare payment models (e.g., value-based care coordination) encourage senior living communities to work collaboratively, and they require technology vendors to support those initiatives.
There is also a new breed of technologies that are building networks of care providers. By participating in their networks, communities can coordinate care with other providers, social workers and even family members. PreparedHealth and PatientPing are just a couple of examples of companies that offer these services. This requires senior communities to get out of their comfort zones and share resident-related information on these networks. It is done right when communities have care coordinators who can serve as the gatekeepers of the information being shared.
Technology companies are also changing their business models and adding full-blown support for connectivity. At the HIMSS18 Global Conference & Exhibition, some health care technology vendors developed interactive exhibits, like those in the HIMSS Interoperability Showcase. One collaboration let visitors experience what it’s like to be a senior who has to transition through multiple stages of care seamlessly. In the storyline, they featured the virtual care of a 66-year-old man, from his diagnosis by the telehealth team to treatment in his hometown and coordination of his organ transplant in a different state. Health data was collected and shared with loved ones and the care team, thus creating better living and more accurate care.
When living in a senior community, or exploring this possibility, it is essential to ask the difficult questions. One question to ask is: how does this organization coordinate care with doctors, hospitals and family members? If the company is still utilizing paper, phones and faxes, this probably means it is going to be less efficient, of lower quality and more expensive. You will get frustrated trying to get updates, and doctors or hospitals will be unable to share critical data securely and efficiently. This lack of efficient communication also creates the potential for improperly prescribed medications and misdiagnosed problems or treatments. With all the technology advancements today, it’s important that senior communities incorporate technology in their day-to-day operations for the improved care of their residents.
Date: November 2, 2018