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.
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.
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