Virtual care and connected care are vital to evolving senior care. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the year 2030 is an important demographic turning point as all baby boomers will be older than age 65. This will expand the size of the older population so that one in every five residents will be retirement age and aging baby boomers will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. Jonathan Vespa, a demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau, commented that “by 2035, there will be 78 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7 million (previously 76.4 million) under the age of 18.”
Today, the treatment of chronic illnesses accounts for more than two-thirds of all healthcare; 95 percent of the healthcare costs for seniors is related to treating chronic diseases. The cost of providing healthcare for one person aged 65 or older is three to five times higher than the cost for someone younger than 65. The National Council of Aging reports that approximately 92 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77 percent have at least two. The CDC reported that almost 41 percent of seniors had to take five or more prescription drugs (often daily) over a 30-day period between 2011 and 2014. The combination of increased life expectancy and the aging U.S. population brings heightened awareness of the need to better manage multiple chronic conditions amongst seniors. Given the expected population shift, senior care is becoming one of the fastest growing, most needed industries in our nation. Providing care that is essential and easy for seniors to access is vital to improving satisfaction and outcomes amongst this population segment.
Role of Technology
Technology is a critical piece of the healthcare puzzle, especially in the senior care industry. A 2017 industry survey found that 89 percent of hospitals and health systems were heavily investing in digital engagement tools including telehealth and virtual care platforms. Many senior care and home health organizations are starting to realize the benefits offered by virtual care technology — such as giving patients immediate access to care, providing patients with reminders about medication adherence and upcoming appointments, and enabling care managers to easily check in with patients, whether in the initial 30 days post-discharge or as part of an ongoing care plan. This technology can also lead to significant cost-savings. When the Veteran Health Administration began its telehealth program, it saved $11,000 per patient when compared to traditional home-based care, and saved $75,000 per patient when compared to nursing home care (according to this AHA brief).
By providing seniors with the freedom and flexibility to participate in virtual visits vs. in-person medical appointments, seniors’ level of independence is enhanced as they can spend more time on their preferred activities and less time traveling to and from medical offices and waiting for their follow-up appointments. The availability of virtual visits is convenient and cost-effective for seniors. Many seniors may be unable to leave their home due to illness or injury, and reliable, affordable transportation to a medical office might not be always available.
If a senior is residing in a senior care setting, staff can use virtual care to help facilitate better coordination of care amongst the senior resident’s various providers. The offsite Medical Director and various specialists can all participate in virtual visits to drive better alignment on the overall care plan. And senior care settings and senior living communities can augment their staff by using virtual care to provide residents access to healthcare, around the clock. This is also convenient and cost-effective for the providers as they will not need to spend “windshield time” in order to engage with each other and the patient/resident. With virtual care technology, providers bring care to the patient – regardless of location and timing.
Seniors can benefit from home health agencies which utilize virtual care technology to help the patient safely transition (from inpatient to outpatient) and/or to support chronic care patients (with frequent check-ins). Virtual care helps to visit nurses and home health workers stay in more frequent touch with their patients by augmenting or even replacing many of their traditional in-home visits. An agency’s bottom line is boosted when nurses’ typical time-behind-the-wheel is converted into more productive and profitable video-based appointments with patients.
During a virtual visit, the nurse can even triage more services – such as a specialist, interpreter, remote family member, and/or pharmacist) – to answer the patient’s questions in real-time and address the patient’s emerging conditions without requiring any additional team members to make a home visit or requiring the patient to be transferred to the ED. And, in the case of many seniors, adult children who are remote caregivers can also be included in the virtual visits in order to stay in the loop regarding their parents’ health. The video check-ins are an innovative and impactful way to remotely provide patients with timely care while also supporting hospitals, payers, and providers in their respective goals to reduce readmissions, maximize reimbursement, and minimize penalties/fines.
Senior care and home health settings are increasing their use of virtual care platforms to evolve their delivery of care. Implementation is improving patient access to care, operational and productivity efficiencies, and reducing excess costs and personnel burdens. Providing timely and thoughtful care can help improve seniors’ quality of life, satisfaction, and overall outcomes, whether they remain at home or in a care setting.
Lee Horner, Synzi CEO
Lee Horner is responsible for corporate strategy and development at Synzi, with an emphasis on revenue growth, product direction, and customer satisfaction. Recognized as an innovator in technology and healthcare, Lee is focused on using technology to advance the timing and quality of care delivery. His career includes over 25 years of enterprise operating experience, with a proven track record in creating and operating successful organizations that develop new technologies designed to transform the healthcare IT industry.