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Using Innovative Technology to Connect Senior Care and Healthcare

New technologies have the power to link housing and health care to improve the lives of seniors, according to a panel of experts who spoke at the 2017 NIC Spring Investment Forum. The panelists presented cutting edge case studies of how technology is being leveraged to improve and coordinate care during a session titled, “Using Innovative Technology to Connect Senior Care and Healthcare.” The session was part of the series of Forum presentations focused on how operators can capture value in a quickly changing business environment.

“Technology is being used to educate seniors and provide access to health care, as well as facilitating the exchange of information,” said panel moderator Lori Alford, chief operating officer at Avanti Senior Living. “It allows us to provide better care.”

Speaker Kari Olson presented the results of telehealth pilot programs conducted by Front Porch, a nonprofit family of companies that serves seniors. As chief innovation and technology officer at the organization, Olson has created a center of excellence to conduct pilot programs on emerging technologies in partnership with leading research institutions in California.

Telehealth has been the focus of several pilot programs conducted by Front Porch. Recognizing common misconceptions about telehealth, Olson was quick to broadly define telehealth as any digital tool that can impact the health of seniors.

The first pilot centered on video health education. Video workshops were transmitted to senior centers on 28 different topics, such as mental health, diet, diabetes and heart disease. About 500 older adults attended the sessions. Follow-up surveys showed that 89 percent of participants said they had a better understanding and control of their ailments after the workshops.

The next pilot taught computer skills to seniors, primarily non-English speakers, to help them find health content online. After six weeks, the seniors felt more empowered to manage their own health and wellness.

Olson noted that the first two pilots were a necessary prelude to the next step in the program which was to engage seniors in an actual telehealth consultation with a health care professional. “We received high satisfaction scores from the seniors,” said Olson. “The video consultations reduced the challenges of trying to see a health provider.”

More pilots are underway on mental telehealth and even teledentistry. “There’s big demand for these services,” said Olson.

Reviewing the results of the pilots, Olson observed that the big take away is that seniors need to become familiar with the technology. Starting with video health education was a good way to prepare seniors for the eventual use of the telehealth video conferences.  “You have to build adoption comfort with the technologies,” she said.

Connecting providers

The seamless exchange of information among health care and housing providers has the potential to improve the lives of seniors, said panelist Craig Patnode, CEO at Simply Connect, a provider of health information exchange software for senior living and long-term care properties to integrate with hospitals and physicians.

“Senior living providers hold 75 percent of the data because they house the high-need resident,” said Patnode. But, he added, most of that data is sitting in folders inaccessible to the health care providers who could use it to improve the lives of seniors.

Patnode imagines a day when seniors can carry personal health records on their mobile phones. The record would include all the latest health and medication information for the person.  “The senior can go to any care center and carry the record along,” explained Patnode. “The integration of care will create better outcomes.”

The record is made possible by a health information exchange (HIE), which acts as a secure hub for medical data from physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and other providers.

The system can increase productivity at senior living communities by eliminating hours of paperwork during care transitions, said Patnode, adding that the system can also act as a marketing tool. “Resident families are looking for coordinated care.”

Where to start? While the task of joining a health information exchange may seem daunting, Patnode recommends starting small. Look carefully at the local market. Connect to one vendor and then expand from there. In Minnesota, Patnode’s firm has connected 700 buildings with pharmacies statewide.

“The industry has to invest more in technology,” said Patnode. Seniors housing and care providers connected via health information exchanges will become the preferred referral partners for hospitals and managed care organizations, he predicted. “If you don’t play the game, the business will go to your competitor.”

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