In an effort to continue to provide quality, safe healthcare and services during the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission has created the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, offering $200 million in funding to healthcare providers to obtain connected care services for people in their homes or other mobile locations. This funding can be used to protect both medical patients and medical staff by decreasing the risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19.

Telehealth can refer to a wide category of technology that helps provide connected care services. A mobile phone, computer and tablet all are devices that are able to support telehealth services such as a virtual appointment, a patient portal or a medical / health application.

By using telehealth, many patients are able to remain in the safety of their homes (including senior living communities) while still receiving the care they need. Medical appointments, for example, can be carried out over video calls rather than in person. Not only can this approach be safer for higher-risk people such as senior living community residents, but it also can be a relief for medical staff who are short on personal protective equipment and work essential jobs that require person-to-person interaction. By decreasing how many patients staff members see in-person, they are not only safer but are able to reserve their PPE for patients who require in-person care.

The coronavirus pandemic has placed unprecedented challenges on senior living communities that have dramatically changed day-to-day operations. An industry already struggling with high rates of employee turnover is now experiencing even more difficulty with staff retention due to the high stress and burdens of the job. This is why it is not only important to provide patients with tools for telehealth but to also provide staff members with the tools they need to safely and effectively do their work.

An in-room self-service kiosk can be a great tool to provide residents with telehealth services and to decrease the burden placed on staff members. These kiosks can be equipped with video calling, a two-way intercom and messaging, to streamline communication while practicing social distancing. These devices also can provide services such as meal ordering, service requests (say, for a plumbing issue or a burned out lightbulb), a news center and more. Staff members even can upload videos for residents, such as physical therapy instructions, hygiene and health tips, or information updates. With these services, residents can access telehealth, such as virtual appointments, and staff members can monitor their health.

A mobile alerting and messaging dashboard also can improve resident care as well as staff member workflow. Such a tool allows staff members to receive detailed alerts regarding the residents for whom they are caring.

For instance, an alert may read “Ruth in room 204: Pushed pendant.” This alert would go to the proper assigned staff group, a member of which can accept the alert directly on his or her mobile device, automatically notifying coworkers that he or she is responding. This system ensures that multiple staff members don’t respond to a single situation and that residents receive a quick response.

With the integration of both a self-service kiosk and a mobile alerting messaging dashboard, staff members even can call into the room directly when they receive an alert. For example, if a resident pushes his or her duress button, a staff member can connect to the kiosk’s intercom immediately and ask the resident whether he or she needs assistance. Not only does this capability help staff members to do their jobs to their best ability; it gives residents peace of mind.

Not only are these tools helpful during a pandemic, but they are helpful every single day. Technology that streamlines communication and improves workflow makes life easier for both staff members and residents and ensures that communities are prepared in an event such as this one. It’s certainly not often that a global pandemic comes around, but unexpected things happen every day. Being prepared can make all the difference.