There is an app for that

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Many observers believe that information technology is going to be the next big thing in senior living
Many observers believe that information technology is going to be the next big thing in senior living

We all find ourselves literally drowning in information. The so-called “Information Age” that arguably dawned in the waning months of the 1990s is now full-bore. And thanks to smartphones, Apple and Google are in a veritable data distribution frenzy, to date hosting more than 75 billion downloads of the 3 million-plus unique “apps” to billions of users worldwide. The app business is barely eight years old. Lots of numbers.

Here's more: Though they can't come close to eclipsing the ubiquitous time-killing apps like Angry Birds, mobile medical apps are now the fastest growing category on the Internet. Google and Apple now offer more than 28,000 different ones.

And so, in an industry still in the twilight stages of wrestling mountains of paper, long-term care finds itself on the enviable receiving end of a remarkable information innovation wave thanks to newly minted engineers reared on social media, savvy marketers, a ton of private equity and some very smart entrepreneurial-minded executives like John Damgaard. He's CEO of electronic health record giant MatrixCare which, thanks to its recent acquisition of AOD Software, is now a leading senior living information company.

During an interview with Mr. Damgaard, one could almost feel his pulse quicken as he talked about a recent epiphany he had on his first Uber ride. “I used to be resistant to Uber, but my chief technology officer convinced me to try it,” he recalls. “It wasn't long after that I began thinking about a world where Uber meets home care, a world where you find yourself in dire need of an agency home care worker, one in close proximity and available now.” It was an easy leap when Damgaard began thinking about integrating location-based services with the delivery of care. “That is a mind-blowing topic that we need people whose propellers are spinning really fast to think about,” he adds. “From a business perspective, I see an explosive intersection of two worlds there. By the time you and I are in a senior living setting, it's going to look very, very different, and it definitely is going to involve location-based services.”

Speak to top executives in healthcare infotech these days, and they all seem similarly giddy over big and little data's potential. Mike MacLeod, founder and self-proclaimed lead strategist of Status Solutions, is one of them.

“Whether you're 65 or 85, if you're alive, you still matter,” MacLeod says. “If you look at what I do, I try to figure out how to harness all this good technology from networks, devices, databases, etc., and deliver better tools to better manage people and stuff. Looking around at all the medication carts, the drugs in those carts, the people pushing them and the primary person, the resident, and their whole circle of influence from family and friends to caregivers and merchants, we're constantly obsessing over how to make their lives better with technology, and how to create situational awareness with our innovative skillset.”

Here's another: Andrew (“Andy”) Carle. The ebullient healthcare executive-turned entrepreneur-turned college professor is immersed in shaping tomorrow's senior living leaders as executives-in-residence for George Mason University's pioneering program in senior housing administration. About a decade ago, Carle got bit by the technology bug after seeing his first Nintendo Wii bowling game, now a staple in every nursing home. He also came across a children's shoe that incorporated a GPS tracking device (ostensibly to defend against abductions or lost kids). 

That sparked an epiphany in the former memory care executive, and he found himself on the ground floor of helping develop the “Navistar” shoe for Alzheimer's patients — which made the list of the “100 Most Important Inventions in History” by the National Museum of Science and Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

EHR: The information core

In the kingdom of senior living information tech, the EMR reigns supreme and in many ways, drives or feeds off many other kinds of innovation.

For example, MatrixCare's EHR system is far more than a fancy electronic resident chart. It's part of a larger, very complex system that downloads data from various resident monitoring devices like wireless scales and activity trackers; its nutrition management feature records what residents are eating for dinner and lunch and using point-of-sale tech, suggests healthful alternatives; and it tells physicians used to doing exhaustive, old-school, time-consuming rounds where the facility's sickest residents are living.

Dave Wessinger, chief technology officer at PointClickCare, believes the EHR is at the very core of providers' insatiable quest “to build a highly valued, sustainable business.” The growing focus on value-based payment models and the need to deliver and demonstrate quality outcomes is driving that, he adds. “Having an EHR in a senior living community helps to improve residents' living experiences, boosts staff productivity and offers better visibility into residents' needs,” Wessinger says. “This insight allows staff to plan for effective services and lifestyle management. An EHR that supports a person-centric approach to care, meaning health-related information that follows the patient and places an emphasis on quality and health outcomes, enables care providers and their partners to rely on the most up-to-date information across care settings, ultimately improving quality while reducing costs.”

Indeed. Damgaard says one need look no further than the clunky, $25,000 telehealth monitors that used to be mounted in corners close to ceilings. Today, they've been replaced by far more sophisticated, $99 feature-rich wearable tech.

Harnessing the potential

Remarkably, only now are providers beginning to understand the full potential of information technology.

The obvious benefits are greater productivity and efficiency and better clinical decision support (thanks to EHR and monitoring, to name two).

The not-so-obvious payback, meanwhile, is how this kind of technology is helping a larger healthcare system connect all of the dots along each resident's or patient's life inside the matrix. “Our enterprise layer is the piece that glues together the full longitudinal record,” Damgaard says. “As a resident moves from home, to a hospital, to a skilled nursing facility, to assisted living, we're able to chart those progressions. We're actually able to take the electronic transition of care document, the CCDA, into our EMR system, and parse it so we know everything about meds and nutrition and physician orders, to name just a few.”

Emerging information tech also can play a key role in better outcomes. “Innovations like wearable tech and monitoring in and of itself are cool, but when you take that data, that information, and you feed it into an EMR that has clinical decision support capabilities, all of a sudden you've opened up a whole new universe of possibilities,” Damgaard says. 

FutureTech

Even as executives like Damgaard ponder the potential for location-based technologies and care delivery, other things such as wearable tech continue sparking and spawning ideas. Damgaard says he believes wearable tech is only at the “1%” hash mark of its full innovation curve. Engineers from contract manufacturing behemoths like Flex, for example, tell McKnight's Senior Living they're out in the fields studying and testing the raw materials for fabrics as they conceive ways of embedding durable sensors inside clothing. Adult incontinence product companies, naturally, are very excited about the potential, Damgaard adds.

But the most exciting information tech innovation is just around the corner, according to Damgaard.

Even today, he says, medical diagnostics are steeped in the Stone Age when compared to the rapidly emerging potential for DNA testing and consumer-based, personalized medicine.

“There is a company now that will take your saliva swab you mail in and in short order and for 99 bucks, send you back your complete genome – your fully mapped genetic profile that is a predictor of disease states at a very high resolution,” Damgaard says. “The potential this holds for saving and extending lives is mind-boggling.” It's no surprise, therefore, that he believes “personalized genetic testing on a full-scale consumer level is going to intersect into senior living, and it's going to involve longer lives, higher-quality lives, but yet at a lower cost and a better satisfaction. That is the 800-pound gorilla.” 

— John Hall

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