Nurse visiting a senior patient at home
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The federal government should integrate the needs and requirements of senior living and other long-term care providers into its health IT strategy to address the varying needs and complexities of the residents served in those settings, as well as demands for data-sharing across the entire healthcare continuum, a coalition of stakeholders is recommending.

The LTPAC Health IT Collaborative — with members that include the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, LeadingAge and AMDA–The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, among others — recently sent a letter to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, known as the ONC, with comments and recommendations on its Federal Health IT Strategic Plan.

“Past strategic plans have focused almost exclusively on hospitals and physicians. It is time this changed,” coalition members told the ONC, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, on May 28. “This plan and related federal health IT policy and programs should represent the broader healthcare community.”

The collaborative noted that lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic could inform future strategic plans, especially the important role of long-term and post-acute care providers, which it defined as senior housing, assisted living, continuing care retirement/life plan communities, home- and community-based services, and long-term services and supports.

The strategic plan, now in draft form, lays out a framework of goals and objectives the federal government will pursue to improve health experiences and outcomes while boosting health equity, advancing scientific discovery and innovation, and modernizing the nation’s public health infrastructure. 

Among the LTPAC Health IT Collaborative’s recommendations are the integration of senior living and care providers into the plan by considering the long-term care sector’s health IT needs, data requirements and information sharing with clinical partners, public health entities and families. The challenges that senior living and other long-term care providers face in serving residents and patients are not addressed in the current strategic plan, according to the collaborative.

“The collaborative encourages the ONC and their federal partners to include details on how the growing interoperability gap will be addressed for these other providers and services that are integral to achieving the overall strategic vision — especially LTPAC providers who are serving the most vulnerable and service-demanding populations who will benefit most from well-coordinated and health IT-enabled care,” the letter read.

The use of electronic health records in residential care communities, such as assisted living communities and personal care homes, is increasing but still is less than the usage rate in nursing homes. From 2018 to 2022, the percentage of residential care communities using EHRs increased from 36% to 48%, according to the May 2 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Use of EHRs increased during this time regardless of community size, although larger communities were more likely to use EHRs compared with smaller RCCs. Data came from the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Post-acute and Long-term Care Study in 2018, 2020 and 2022.

By comparison, a study published in December 2023, prepared for the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation by RTI International, found EHR adoption in nursing homes at 84%.

The LTPAC collaborative suggested expanding the ONC health IT plan’s goal of promoting health and wellness to include “quality of life,” given the population served by senior living and care providers. It also recommended the inclusion of strategies to improve family caregiver access to health information. 

And as the nation moves toward value-based care, the collaborative said, the federal health IT strategy should encourage greater exchange of information across the healthcare continuum. That said, the long-term care sector largely has been left out of planning and funding initiatives involving health IT, the collaborative said, asking for a “longer on-ramp” to achieve the goal of seamless care coordination.

Read the entire LTPAC Health IT Collaborative letter here.