The adoption of virtual care in senior living and aging services has evolved greatly in the past decade.
Several years ago, virtual care widely was viewed in the senior living world as young and experimental. Today, however, several providers accept virtual care as an effective means to deliver care, and consumers and staff members recognize the value that technology-enabled solutions can provide.
Although virtual care adoption is growing broadly, several provider organizations in the smart aging continuum still view virtual care and technology-enabled solutions as simple operational details or “nice-to-have” strategic initiatives. These are not necessarily faulty positions for technology to serve in an organization. We, as an industry, however, need to shift our thinking and view virtual care as a potential solution to a broad set of operational and strategic challenges that we confront on a daily basis.
To break down this concept further, let’s review the role of virtual care in senior living and aging services. Here are examples below of how virtual care technologies can help today’s operators address common challenges such as staffing shortages, pressures to enhance outcomes and a desire to reach the growing numbers of older adults in their own traditional homes.
Virtual care to mitigate staffing issues
A recent Ziegler survey identified that staffing shortages is the top concern among senior living professionals. Although shortages occur across several departments, a shortage of providers – whether it be direct-care staff or geriatricians – is a challenge that many organizations currently face. Provider shortages are particularly common after-hours and on weekends and, if not addressed, can leave staff ill-equipped to handle complex or urgent cases.
Several virtual care technologies make provider oversight more readily available, including platforms that use audio and video to virtually connect providers to the bedside, 24 hours a day.
Virtual care to advance positive outcomes
Avoiding unnecessary hospitalizations is one of the primary goals of any senior living / post-acute provider or health system today. This goal not only is a key component of healthcare reform and a high-priority outcome tracked by all providers; if achieved, it also can reduce costs and stressors on older adults, their families and caregivers.
Virtual care solutions have demonstrated the ability to improve health outcomes in several senior living / post-acute settings. In its “2018 Telehealth Industry Trends” presentation, for example, The Advisory Board cites research that shows an after-hours skilled nursing virtual care provider successfully treated more than 80% of skilled nursing residents in place using virtual care technologies, thereby helping residentes avoid expensive and possibly traumatic trips to the hospital.
Virtual care to help maintain independence
Research has shown that older adults increasingly are interested in using technology to improve the “aging experience” and maintain some form of independence. Virtual care offerings such as remote monitoring and wearable solutions can achieve this objective by allowing consumers to live independently while knowing that providers or loved ones will be immediately contacted if vitals or health measures are out of range.
These offerings can be particularly helpful for those living with chronic conditions, as they can encourage patient engagement and improve care coordination. This sector of virtual care is ripe for continued growth and is attracting nontraditional healthcare companies such as Amazon and Google, which are implementing their “smart speaker” solutions in senior living communities, and Best Buy, which recently announced that it will test a home monitoring service for seniors.
Virtual care as a solution in rural markets
Seniors living in rural markets often have trouble finding convenient care options, and loneliness and isolation can be even more pronounced among older adults in these areas. Virtual care technologies certainly are a solution for difficult-to-reach populations and can improve access to care and enhance social engagement among those who live in rural communities or are homebound for a significant portion of the time. The increased ability of older adults to easily interface with healthcare professionals and to be socially connected to friends and loved ones is a significant benefit to care and quality of life.
I’ve highlighted just a few of the challenges that virtual care technologies can address. As providers, we need to continue to challenge ourselves to evaluate where technology can present ideas and remedies to some of our most pressing issues.
Ziegler’s Corporate Finance Healthcare team recently released a comprehensive white paper entitled “Deconstructing the Telehealth Industry: Part II.” This report provides a deep dive into the future of virtual care solutions and specifically discusses the growing role of virtual care within the smart aging continuum. Interested readers can visit the Ziegler website at www.ziegler.com to access the full report.
Lisa McCracken is a senior vice president of senior living research and development at Ziegler. Ziegler is a privately held investment bank, capital markets, wealth management and alternative investments firm specializing in the healthcare, senior living, education and religion sectors, as well as general municipal and structured finance. Ziegler is the No. 1 healthcare/senior living underwriter in the United States by issuance, according to Thomson Reuters.