Cost Effective Daily Screening of Staff and Visitors for COVID-19 Symptoms and Risk Exposure

With the COVID-19 pandemic there is quite a bit of excitement about Telehealth and its potential in senior living. The previous article provides a contextual background on some reasons for telehealth’s sudden popularity. In this article we take a look at Telehealth how senior living communities can benefit from this technology.

Telehealth can provide all around benefits to residents, care teams, providers, and (yes) even operators in senior living. Here are some of main benefits of telehealth that operators need to understand as they investigate this technology and its applicability for their environment.

Continuity of Care

First and foremost, telehealth enables seniors to maintain continuity of care for their residents. Given the COVID-19 pandemic Telehealth is potentially critical for residents to receive medical care in a safe and timely manner should physicians and providers be unable to physically visit a community. For instance, if a provider is under quarantine, telehealth may be the only option for their patients. Telemental Health Care has also been shown to be an effective alternative to conventional mental care.

Convenience for Residents

Using Telehealth, residents can be seen by providers in the safety of the community environment without having to travel to a physician’s office. Travel poses its own risks and hazards for the elderly, especially in the context of a global pandemic. Besides the fact that residents may not be allowed to travel outside the community, residents can be seen by providers in the comfort of their own home for most situations, and can have a quicker access to follow up actions to resolve their ailments.

Infection Control and Prevention

Telehealth provides the unique opportunity for a community to add to their infection control program, simply by simply limiting physical exposure of both staff and residents to external providers. By streamlining and optimizing external provider “real” visits in combination with “tele”-visits, community operators can potentially reduce added burden of cleaning and sanitizing objects and places.

Increased Provider Efficiencies

Telehealth can help providers be more efficient in providing the appropriate care for their patients in different communities without the hassle of travel to and from the community. Care can also be delivered in a timely manner. Additionally, providers benefit from a reduced risk of infection both for themselves as well as for the community residents and staff.

Family Reassurance

Especially in the current environment, and probably for the foreseeable future, families will require to be reassured that their loved one is receiving the appropriate and high-quality care from physicians and other ancillary service providers. Given that most families are unable to visit their loved ones in the midst of a pandemic, families derive peace of mind benefit from knowing that the community has embraced technology to preserve care continuity.

Marketing Differentiation

One of the unsung benefits of a telehealth program is the ability for a community to market themselves to prospects and their families. Arguably, the pandemic has raised awareness and increased brought focus to the health and clinical care aspects of resident life in communities, in addition to social and other needs. Visitor limitations imposed by federal and state mandates have elevated family concerns leading to hesitation and delays (sometimes cancellations) in move-ins plans. Embracing telehealth demonstrates a community’s focus on ensuring that a futures residents’ healthcare needs will continue to be met despite provider access limitations, which could make a difference in for families evaluating their shortlisted communities.

Decreased Risk for Residents

“Care in Place” enabled by telehealth can potentially decrease resident anxiety. Less anxiety, coupled with the removal of the need to travel can be beneficial for residents, especially those with increased risk for falls.

Lowered Transportation Needs

As a fringe benefit, a community that rolls out a successful telehealth program can potentially see a decreased need for transportation to physician offices on schedule days of the week. This is arguably a minor benefit, but one nevertheless that could accumulate over time for some operators that are facing labor shortages or frequent staff call outs.

As with any technology, the benefits of telehealth vary based on the specific community environment. Also, realization of the benefits is dependent on understanding the barriers to adopting this technology and developing effective ways to overcome the barriers for your specific environment. We will explore both of these in a follow-on article.

Ref: Telemental Health Care, and Effective Alternative to Conventional Mental Care: A Systematic Overview, M. Langarizadeh et al, Acta Informatica Medica, 2017

Preparing For The Visitor Surge

With the gradual reopening of economies and states, senior living communities will soon have to open their doors to all visitors. This opens up some important questions that operators will soon need to address:

  • How to secure the communities for the expected flood of visitors, especially those residents who have large families?

  • How will visitors be screened to ensure that communities are confirming to federal and state guidelines?

  • What is the community’s policy towards allowing visitors?

  • Will visitors be required to wear masks?

  • Will visitors be required to bring their own masks? Or will the community provide masks?

  • What will the visitation hours be? Will it be restricted?

  • Is/would a community team member be available to screen visitors through the course of open hours?

  • Should the community open up an appointment schedule for visitors, at least during the initial period for a phased opening?

Given the diversity of senior living communities in the US, there most likely will be more questions. Operators will need to think through various aspects including marketing (i.e. tours), compliance, staffing, access & security, social distancing, to name a few.

It is imperative that operators develop a community visitation policy well ahead of reopening. The community visitation policy needs to help operators:

  1. Know who is in the building

  2. How many people are there in the building

  3. Have they been screened

  4. Track and trace them

Some suggestions to consider when developing a policy include:

  • Setting up an online calendar of “visitation times” that families can choose from. There are numerous scheduling tools available, several of which are free or have trial offers

  • Setting limits on the number of visitors in the community at any given time to support social distancing requirements would probably help operators better manage visitor flow

  • Pre-registeration of visitors with their contact information

  • Pre-screening regular visitors ahead of time can help balance community resource availability with the flood of visitors expected upon reopening

  • Creating, communicating, and adhering to published “open-hours” to all stakeholders

  • Education of staff on visitation policy, reopening guidelines, and ways and means to communicate with families and providers

  • Determining walk pathways for visitor traffic flow that supports adherence to social distancing guidelines

Let’s face it!

COVID-19 has created new realities for the senior living industry. Preparation is key as the industry moves into the re-opening phase and operators can safely and securely reopen.