By Matt Phillion
With a rapidly aging population in which seniors are expected to outpace those 18 and under in the next decade, we’re on the verge of a senior care crisis in which caregivers will not be able to keep pace with those who need the care they can provide.
New technologies can help improve the quality of care and quality of life for seniors, though, to support wellness in post-acute care settings in ways that help enrich the social, cognitive, physical, and emotional health to help impact their overall wellness.
Rapidly available technology now allows residents of senior living or memory care facilities to receive more personalized engagement, enrichment and development experiences in ways that have been previously unavailable, changing the face of what quality care looks like for an aging population.
“We’re really facing a trifecta of issues in this space: a rapidly aging population, a labor shortage of caregivers, and accelerating healthcare costs,” says Navin Gupta, CEO of LifeLoop.
There are initiatives to cross-train caregivers so they can work to deliver care to this growing population, but the simple math is we will face a growing shortage. Combine that with growing cost of care and the potential for disaster rises. But there’s another, more organic factor the industry must consider as well.
“There’s a big trend in the expectations of seniors. Things are changing. In the past, a senior moving into an assisted care or senior living community could be considered the final chapter of life,” says Gupta. “Now they want to create multiple new chapters. They want it to be the start of new beginnings.”
Where there used to be a focus on rehab is now one on wellness. These seniors want help managing their chronic illnesses not to face the end but to ensure they continue to live a fulfilling life.
“There’s less concern about lifespan and more about well span,” says Gupta. “Where we used to have cookie cutter services, it’s now about personalization—people want to age in a personalized way.”
From a tech perspective, there’s an overarching theme of fragmentation of senior information across multiple platforms or systems.
“If we can deliver personalized aging-related services there has got to be an enterprise play or rich partner ecosystem,” says Gupta.
LifeLoop looked at 300 organizations over the past few months offering some form of solution for the market and found about 65% do one thing and one thing alone.
“There are tons of point-to-point solutions across the ecosystem, and that’s a challenge for staff,” says Gupta. “Each time you have to train on a new system that’s a challenge, and secondly whenever you have staff turnover, you’ve got to decommission them from all those systems and provision new folks in. There are people whose roles are dedicated just to keep all these systems alive.”
The final piece is the adoption curve of technology within senior care, Gupta notes.
“You’ve got early adopters and on the other side of the bell curve, the laggards and late adopters, and it’s my conviction those early adopters will win in the end,” he says.
Converging technology and interoperability
With so many options and points of interaction with technology, interoperability is key—a concept not unfamiliar in healthcare as data sharing across medical records is top of mind.
“Thinking about the care continuum, it’s still episodic,” says Gupta. “I believe you’ve got to be a good citizen in the technology ecosystem. Most companies cannot solve all the problems alone, so you’ve got to be committed to data transparency and sharing.”
Care providers think in terms of workflows, so how can technology organizations make those workflows easier? First, technology needs to integrate with EHR solutions appropriately.
“Things like integrating with single sign-on sound so simple but I think there’s a long way to go, and we need to keep preaching the message of having good interoperability,” says Gupta.
Willingness to integrate can stem from anything from economic motivations, doing the right thing by the customer, or because the customers are asking for it.
“They see these problems and want all the automation that lets EHRs and other tools talk to each other. That’s the direction we’re headed in,” Gupta says. “Data is power. If you think about a change in a patient’s condition, so much of that can be captured at the HER; not just clinical changes, but dining patterns, behavioral changes, if they’ve had more or fewer visitors. These are all data signals. What if caregivers at the point of care have access to all of this information and a 360-degree view of the patient or resident? I absolutely believe this has a direct impact on quality of care.”
The goal is to bring the right data, and the right amount of data, into the workflow so it provides insights to help provide optimal care for that patient.
“Users need to be vocal. They’ve got to ask for this and say, ‘If you are a vendor and provide solutions to me and want to be a trusted partner, you must commit to interoperability,’” says Gupta. “From the tech side, make it a priority and put it in your plans.”
More tech-savvy users
Gupta speaks with organizations all the time about how to build better integration.
“Customers are getting smarter. They see the problem, understand the costs, and are the ones who ultimately will make an impact on senior living,” he says.
Getting in the way of this the ever-present challenge of prioritization, as well as the battle between competitiveness and cooperation.
“You may need to work with an organization you have some overlap within your portfolio,” Gupta says. “But keep the patient or resident in mind, as well as the workflows. If your mission and vision is this level of interoperability, then it’s something you should invest in.”
The movement in thought toward prevention and wellness is poised to have a big impact. LifeLoop is preparing to launch a concept of a wellness community score, looking at ways to surface at a community level the datapoints to shape how well a community or setting is doing.
“In doing this we can provide comparisons and benchmarking against local and national levels,” says Gupta.
There’s an opportunity to make an impact with transparency in data, Gupta notes.
“I see a lot of solutions out there that do a great job capturing information about a patient or resident, but that information seldom makes its way into other functions,” he says. “An engagement platform is a great opportunity to personalize things like the move-in process, for example. How can you make it so much richer when a person moves into a senior community?”
The first 100 days is a critical period when someone moves into a senior community, which is why, Gupta notes, it’s such a huge opportunity with the right data to engage those new residents, whether it’s through hobbies, dining, social connections.
“If you really know this person, know that they have these hobbies or went to that school, are a fan of a specific sports team, you can tailor those first 100 days” for a higher quality patient or resident experience, says Gupta.
The healthcare world must move forward with the needs of the aging population, Gupta notes.
“We want to see seniors living with purpose, passion, and joy,” he says. “We do this by creating flourishing communities. There was this idea that this can have the feel of the last chapter of your life, but in this new mindset there’s a blossoming that can truly happen, so we’re investing in solutions that seniors are asking for. Physical health is important to them, the pursuit of new knowledge.”
A great patient/resident experience cannot happen without a great staff/caregiver experience or the other way around, and technology has a role to play in improving care this way, Gupta says.
“Most people in senior care spaces are there because they genuinely have a passion to provide quality care. How can we make technology more frictionless across the whole ecosystem?” he says. “We need that working in the backend so that on the frontend staff can engage with residents, deliver quality care, and ensure that the resident is getting what they expect as well.”
Matt Phillion is a freelance writer covering healthcare, cybersecurity, and more. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.