According to data from AARP, 77% of adults age 50 and older want to remain aging at home longer for as long as they can. Unfortunately, ongoing and growing challenges across the senior care industry—including the immense labor shortage of home health care workers—is inhibiting these individuals from doing so.
This rings especially true for seniors who wish to return to their homes after a hospital stay caused by a fall or other health emergency. In the weeks and months after they are discharged, seniors are at their most vulnerable and also most in need of enhanced monitoring.
This is precisely why this is a pivotal moment for homecare businesses and agencies to explore more innovative and accessible solutions to meet the needs of their patients and overcome industry strains. Luckily, there are many solutions available to help bridge this gap.
The Correlation Between Labor Shortages & Senior Safety
According to one study, the number of U.S. adults aged 60 and older is expected to increase 30% by 2050, and home health aides are predicted to be one of the fastest growing professions in the next 10 years. This means homecare businesses are increasingly challenged by an inability to keep up with the demand for care. To put it simply, the skyrocketing demand for home health nurses vastly outpaces the quantity of workers available due to ongoing shortages.
Additional data from the National Association for Home Care & Hospice shows this is causing some agencies to reject upwards of 40% of new patient referrals. As a result, seniors are being forced to move out of their homes and into facilities sooner than they planned or wanted to, which is only further compounding the labor shortages inside of facilities.
This is where the opportunity for technology lies. Technologies like medical alert devices, telehealth and remote-patient-monitoring services can help home health workers monitor vitals and activity remotely, thereby extending care capabilities even amid staffing challenges and ultimately reducing health care costs to businesses
With Medicare incentives for preventing a second hospital stay after a senior returns home from an initial stay being cut for a second year in a row, utilizing technology resources is a key strategy at this time.
Home health aides and businesses need supplemental support to ensure that they are protecting patients and that recent technological advancements are primed to ease that burden.
What Solutions Look Like
Overall, homecare is an area that is uniquely positioned to adopt new technologies to provide greater quality of care, but is susceptible to a host of challenges that can make it difficult to execute. As we’ve established, the nursing shortage is leaving many older adults without the proper quality and frequency of care. To supplement in-home care, homecare businesses should be leveraging data and insights collected by consumer health devices, such as personal emergency response systems (PERS), to monitor patient vitals and safety.
Data is playing an increasingly important role in determining how care is delivered to all patients, not just seniors. But in the case of seniors, family caregivers often turn to consumer-friendly options such as security systems or alert devices to provide peace of mind, either before or in conjunction with hiring professional care. These devices can serve as “boots on the ground” inside the home, collecting critical insights and learning the needs and health habits of senior patients.
This is a tremendous example of the synergies between homecare and personal safety in the home and why homecare businesses and agencies should be leveraging PERS devices and remote patient monitoring (RPM) to enhance the quality of care they provide. The capabilities of these devices and services are designed to maintain the patient-clinician relationship long after an appointment or hospital stay is finished. For example, many of these devices come equipped with features such as appointment and medication reminders, as well as calling and messaging features that can keep seniors connected with their loved ones.
For higher acuity patients managing multiple chronic conditions, remote patient monitoring is a great tool to supplement PERS and traditional care delivery. RPM has proven efficacy in reducing avoidable hospital readmission and lowering the total cost of care. These insights can help bolster care plans and deliver critical insights to stakeholders across the continuum. By layering on engagement tools enabled with artificial intelligence (AI), home health agencies can further empower self-care management. This allows for longitudinal care management, even beyond home health episodes of care.
Bridging the Labor Gap
As studies and the pandemic have proven, there is a significant need to innovate how senior care is delivered and, with aging populations rising, this is something that must be addressed urgently.
PERS devices are longitudinal; the beauty is their ability to track patient habits inside and outside of the home for an extended period of time. In comparison to other tracking tools that may be more episodic, equipping senior patients with a PERS device means as a homecare health professional, you’re able to collect a much richer set of data. This data can be used to identify trend lines over a longer period of time, which can be inherently valuable in driving preventative and proactive care.
Furthermore, by implementing a longitudinal tool or tools, home health professionals are able to accumulate a richer data set sooner than they would with traditional methods. That allows them to be proactive about preventative care, before there’s escalation that could lead to another hospitalization.
It’s critical that homecare businesses align themselves with technology partners that make the integration of these tools as seamless as possible. Partners should be evaluated on whether or not they offer installation and other logistical support; if they have a reputation for offering excellent customer service; and whether their financial and data science teams can establish return on investment and outcome benchmarks for program. Establishing these partnerships are the first steps to bridging the labor gap.
At the core of keeping seniors safe in post-acute care is the staff tasked with protecting them. For homecare business, labor shortages will continue to be a challenge, but with innovative technologies and data, organizations can take charge and provide better quality care.
Those of us on the forefront of developing and refining these tools know that homecare businesses need support in order to effectively grow and, more importantly, to care for one of the most vulnerable populations.
Considering new and evolving technology can provide cost effective solutions to an escalating problem.