By David Hunt, Founder & President, Cosán Group
Seniors have been dealing with increasing chronic health issues, isolation, and mental health challenges for years – all of which were exacerbated even further by the pandemic. According to JAMA, as COVID-19 began to spread in the US in early 2020, older adults experienced disproportionately greater adverse effects from the pandemic including more severe complications, higher mortality, concerns about disruptions to their daily routines and access to care, difficulty in adapting to technologies like telemedicine, and concerns that isolation would exacerbate existing mental health conditions.
However, technology has offered new ways to meet these patients’ complex needs and shift the way we care for seniors. Just as the need for care grew, so did efforts to provide tech solutions. This shift helped to force the hands of holdover providers and patients who had previously been hesitant to embrace a more tech-focused approach to care. Every day we see the value of being able to connect to the patients we serve through chronic care management. Being the lens into the home between provider visits as well as checking in on the patient regularly brings peace of mind not only to the patient but the family members and providers.
Now that the benefits of remote and hybrid care models – made possible by technology – have been proven, the senior care pipeline has begun to shift. Patients want to stay in their homes longer – between 50 and 60 percent of adults age 18-49 say they want to remain in their communities and homes as they age, while nearly 80 percent of adults age 50 and older indicate this same desire – and now they are able to do so safely. Caretakers are able to meet patients where they are more easily and provide a higher caliber of care, allowing older adults and at-risk seniors to maintain their lifestyles and delaying the need for them to leave their homes and enter care facilities. Technology has given them options, and options offer the freedom for them to customize care in order to meet their complex needs, preserve their lifestyles, and achieve better outcomes.
On the other hand, patients are entering each level of care – independent, assisted, memory care, skilled nursing, end of life care, etc. – when they are more progressed, presenting a new set of challenges. The shifting senior care pipeline is clearly a complicated issue of both positives and negatives, of which technology is both the cause and the solution.
The best way to view this newly advanced pipeline is through the eyes of a patient. Take Margie, an 80 year old patient who suffers from diabetes and presents a fall risk. Previously, she would have been considered a patient who could benefit from entering a nursing home. Now, her providers can offer alternative solutions that may allow her to receive quality care at home, allowing her to stay in the comfortable environment where she has lived for her entire life.
Thanks to her primary care provider’s chronic care management (CCM) program, she can receive care in her own home. Her PCP can give her the continuous glucose monitoring she requires remotely with Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) technology, and steps can be taken to stabilize her levels if needed.
Margie’s care coordinator regularly checks in with her via phone and video calls. They are able to discuss her condition and confirm she is taking her medicine properly, and that she has sufficient supplies and is regularly getting prescription refills. Additionally, as Margie is a fall risk, her team can see her home/environment, assess any potential dangers, and discuss with her ways to avoid them.
Margie faces difficulties with her mental and emotional health, as well, as she struggles with her body slowing down and the subsequent slowing of her social life. She is no longer able to walk the neighborhood with her friends, and COVID limited her social interactions even further. Myndyou, an AI-powered virtual care assistant, checks in on her and monitors for any mental or cognitive declines. If anything is detected, it’s automatically escalated to her care management team, who can contact her and determine the best course of action to address the issue – all while Margie is safe at home.
All of these tech-driven opportunities are undoubtedly beneficial for patients because they want to stay in their homes. Technology bridges gaps in healthcare, which leads to better outcomes for patients. Providing this continuity of care is paramount in keeping patients out of the hospital and overall better manage their chronic conditions improving their quality of life. Though it’s important to recognize the challenges this continuum shift creates for senior care providers, as they are faced with more advanced cases, ultimately, emerging technologies offer life-changing solutions for older adults and other underserved populations. Options are the key to expanding the senior care pipeline and delaying the need to take the next step toward more intensive forms of care.