Kevin Kenney

Today’s Medicare and Medicare Advantage programs pay for scores of preventive and screening services, typically at no charge, for the nearly 60 million Americans covered by original Medicare, Medicare Advantage and other senior health plans in 2017. This number of people is estimated to increase to 80 million by 2030 due to longer lifespans and the baby boomer generation aging into their 60s and 70s (boomers currently are 52 to 71).

But depending on their health, support system or type of residence, too many older adults aren’t taking advantage of these screenings. Screenings save lives by detecting life-threatening conditions, including colorectal cancer, heart disease and diabetes. So why aren’t more older adults — who are overwhelmingly interested in staying healthier, living longer and delaying or preventing these diseases – not taking full advantage of these benefits?

It comes down to convenience. Regardless of whether a senior citizen is living independently, in a retirement community, an assisted living community or a long-term care facility, it’s often a challenge for him or her to access preventive health testing services in a manner that’s convenient.

Business intelligence and information technology key to convenience, success

Enter the combined power of business intelligence and information technology. Health plans and provider organizations are leveraging these advanced capabilities to help them identify who would benefit most from a health screening, as well as to keep participants actively engaged in optimizing their health well beyond the screening.

Contrary to what some people might think, it’s not just younger people who remain connected through IT. It was once thought that older Americans would be slow to embrace information advancements — such as email, text messaging, patient portals or smartphones and tablets. A 2017 Pew Research study, however, shows that more than 60 percent of older adults are regularly using the internet to communicate and educate themselves on the latest news and trends, including healthcare and lifestyle best practices.

Seniors are enjoying their 24/7 access to information, the convenience and the power to do it themselves, while providers and plans save significant resources in achieving improved health outcomes without tedious and expensive staff phone calls and complex spreadsheets.

Technology can overcome another roadblock to maximizing value and efficiency from operating a health-screening program: care coordination, also called connected health. The information gathered in even the best-run program is of little value if it isn’t integrated with the resident’s electronic health record in the facility or back in his or her physicians’ offices. This means that facilities and plans need to partner with a health screening provider that leverages information tools that help efficiently:

Identify: Using the U.S. Preventive Services guidelines, determine which seniors should receive a specific test based on age, gender, risk factors and other considerations.

Connect: Develop a health measurement strategy that takes into account special considerations for your population, such as mobility, age, geographic location and the primary care provider relationship. Focus on a screening strategy that offers participants multiple options to receive a screening to maximize engagement.

Measure: Aggregate your population’s data post-screening to identify trends and risk factors and determine the most effective course of follow up. Facilities can use the output of these data to tailor the care, activities and programs they offer residents. For example, if data show that a continuing care retirement community has a high number of residents with uncontrolled diabetes, then the program director could implement a cross-functional diabetic management program.

Achieve: In collaboration with a participant’s primary care provider, develop a care coordination plan to address risk factors and unique needs identified during the screening process. This closes the loop back to the resident’s health record at the primary care physician’s office, the facility and any specialists to ensure that all data are there to support coordinated, high-quality, cost-efficient care.

Continuously engage: Post-screening, continue to leverage technology solutions, including patient portals, to keep seniors engaged in their health. Once reserved for desktop use, healthcare organizations are leveraging patient portals for mobile use, and patients — including older Americans — are responding. According to a recent HIMSS survey, 58% of healthcare professionals connect with their patients via mobile-optimized patient portals.

Advanced capabilities to drive engagement, efficiency

The best advanced technology solutions are designed to support virtually all aspects of configuring and managing a health screening program. These capabilities make it much easier not only for health plans to reach out and engage with seniors but to offer the screenings — often in partnership with senior-living facilities and programs — much more efficiently.

Here are six capabilities an effective health screening platform should offer to streamline and manage as many aspects of screening programs as possible:

  • Customizable participant portal that provides an effective way to communicate with and engage participants in the screening program, enable them to sign up for a screening, view easy-to-read results, and access educational resources related to their specific risks and conditions.
  • Manage programs from a central location with a configurable dashboard that enables administrators to configure programs, engage participants, track results and identify trends.
  • Self-service and omnichannel communications configuration that enables you to send targeted messages on demand. Depending on the type of facility, its director can record and upload interactive voice response call messages and customize lab report cover letters for sharing results with participants, or select from a list of pre-populated templates and scripts.
  • Role-based access and delegated administration to ensure security of protected health information and that all appropriate stakeholders have access to the information they need.
  • Effective communication with physicians and other caregivers to improve care coordination and prevent unnecessary duplication of tests or procedures.
  • Enhanced reporting capabilities to filter data by demographics and other variables to reach certain groups with targeted messages and to better understand your population’s health trends and individuals’ unique health risks.

Medicare, Medicare Advantage and other insurance programs covering older Americans are ready to support evidence-based screenings that help more seniors participate and that leverage the power of integrated information technology to engage older adults, connect care and report back to identify population health trends.

America’s 65-and-over population is projected to nearly double over the next three decades, from 48 million to 88 million by 2050. People want to maintain their independence, mobility and quality of life as long as possible. One way to enable healthy aging is by engaging older adults in preventive health screenings appropriate for their age and health circumstances. For a comprehensive list of screening recommendations by age, as well as other helpful resources, see the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force website.

Kevin Kenney is chief growth officer of BioIQ, a company that simplifies health testing for health plans and enterprises of all sizes and empowers people to take action to improve their health. Kenney may be reached at [email protected].

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