Studies suggest that one in four Americans are using virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa to control their smart devices and access the Internet. However, older adults are much less likely to use these handy apps. That’s a shame because they’re missing out on so many features that can make life easier and keep them safe. So what do these digital assistants bring to the table? Why do some seniors struggle, and how can you help them use these programs?
How Can Virtual Assistants Help a Senior?
Virtual assistants work off of voice commands. They can also control smart devices around the home. This means that people with vision impairment, limited mobility, arthritis, or hand tremors can still use these household gadgets. They can adjust the thermostat, play audiobooks and more, without even leaving the couch.
These programs also streamline the smartphone experience. Older users don’t need to remember passwords, hunt through multiple layers of menus, or find the right app in a sea of options. The assistant handles all of this. At a simple request, seniors can video conference with loved ones or learn the score of Sunday’s game.
Virtual assistants also offer future proofing. Technology may continue to get more complicated, but the older user doesn’t need to worry about that. A virtual assistant will upgrade to handle these innovations.
Safety and Medications
Virtual assistants can make life safer for a senior. If your loved one is one of the 36 million seniors a year who fall, the assistant will contact emergency services. It can pull up maps and track locations if your loved one gets lost. These programs also remind older users to take medicine, and even tell the doctor about missed doses.
Each day in the U.S., about 10,000 seniors turn 65. By 2050, there will be 83.7 million seniors in the country, representing about one-fifth of its population. Even with the growing awareness of health and fitness, it’s a hard reality that about three-quarters of these older Americans live with multiple chronic health conditions, ranging from diabetes to dementia, meaning that ongoing care and monitoring is simply a fact of life.
The way we deliver senior care has been evolving, and more patients are seeking to “age in place,” which means that they opt to remain in their own homes for as long as possible while receiving any necessary medical care.
This desire to remain at home is driven by many factors including a desire for comfort, access to friends and family, familiarity and privacy. Not to mention the economic benefits – with the cost of nursing homes easily topping $70,000 a year.
Because of this, home healthcare services have been growing in popularity, despite the fact that patients who receive care at home are more likely to experience a higher 30-day readmission rate after leaving the hospital, compared to those in nursing homes. Still, the lower costs and comfort make home care an attractive option.
Your Doctor is Only as Good as the Information They Have
One challenge that home healthcare providers face is consistency in tracking and communicating information to the patient’s primary doctor. Not only information from care at home, but also information from clinics or hospital visits. This lack of insight into patient data can significantly increase the cost of care for patients because without access to the full history of the patient, unnecessary tests may be run, wasting both money and the doctor’s time. It is reported that a whopping $210 billion is spent annually on unnecessary medical care each year in America. Put in perspective, this is almost twice the U.S. 2019 federal education budget.
Further, there can be even more serious consequences to this lack of information and tracking. Without access to accurate patient records, medical errors are more likely because, for example, the patient may have an allergy unknown by the care provider. Medical errors are in fact the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Each year, approximately 250,000 patients in the U.S. die due to such errors.
To prevent these tragedies, an up-to-date, accurate patient file that is updated at each point of care is crucial. This can be most efficiently accomplished via electronic records that are patient-centric and follow a patient wherever they go to receive care, keeping specialists informed throughout an individual patient’s journey. This bridges the gap when a patient switches providers or sees a new physician because each professional has a patient’s detailed medical history, already available to them.
The HITECH Act and Where Electronic Health Records (EHR) Can Go Wrong
Despite the obvious benefits to the implementation of Electronic Health Records (EHR) – it alone is not the answer. The HITECH Act – or Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama in February of 2009. A key aspect of the Act was to promote and expand the adoption of health information technology, specifically, the use of EHRs by healthcare providers. Prior to this, only 10% of hospitals had adopted EHRs.
Unfortunately, after more than $36 billion was spent on the project, and most doctors have indeed moved to electronic health records – the solutions were implemented in such a way that they are not interoperable with one another. So while one hospital may have impeccable electronic patient records – there was no way to efficiently transfer that information to another care provider, blocking the effectiveness of the initiative.
Further, some of the independent EHR systems were difficult for doctors to use and could cause dangerous mistakes, such as recording a child’s weight by default in kilograms rather than pounds, leading to the prescription of incorrect doses of medication.
It is estimated that one-fifth of the U.S. population will be 65 years or older by 2030. According to Florida Atlantic University, out of the 1.6 million Americans currently living in a nursing home, 60 percent of that population is sent to the emergency room, while another 25 percent are admitted to the hospital each year. As a result, the care transition process between senior communities and acute care providers has become critical to ensure the best outcomes for patients.
Traditionally, when a senior care resident is sent to a hospital, the receiving healthcare provider may not have a complete view of the patient’s history. Ideally, documentation and medical records should travel with the resident so that all the information clinicians will need to properly treat the individual will be available upon arrival. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.
The good news is that there is technology to help improve this process in three main ways:
Reducing unnecessary hospital readmissions
Reducing paper and therefore medication errors
Increased focus on person-centered care
Reducing unnecessary readmissions
There is a lot of talk in the industry about how technology is helping to reduce hospital readmissions, but these conversations often lack tangible, measurable results. One thing is certain – providers have benchmarks to meet. On Oct. 1, 2012, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) implemented penalties for hospital readmissions at a rate of one percent. By Oct. 1, 2014 this rate increased to three percent. By 2018, CMS is mandating that those same penalties that apply to hospitals will apply to skilled nursing facilities.
I recently had the opportunity to attend PointClickCare’s annual user summit held in Orlando. Though the senior care market is not one I’ve spent a great deal of time covering, senior and long-term care are deeply interesting to me. There are several reasons for this interest: Seniors are becoming the largest population segment in the US and that has serious ramifications ranging from politics to economics, and because I’m interested in alternative care models. And, in some way, senior care effects all of us.
There are a number of differences between senior care and ambulatory or in patient, but the technology needs are still overwhelming and great. Senior care facilities across the US face tight budgets, extremely high levels of employee turnover and technology challenges, but the care they provide is still important, as is how the information they collect on behalf of their patients is similar to other sectors.
According to Mike Wessinger, CEO and co-founder, “PointClickCare’s goal is to enrich the lives of care providers through technology that will help them better care for their residents in ways that are effective and efficient.”
PointClickCare’s primary reason for being is to deliver electronic health record and practice management solutions, but the company has an eye on mobile delivery, where both Mike and brother David Wessingner, CTO and co-founder, feel the future of health IT lies.
Mobile is king for its ability to deliver health data quickly and where needed, as well as to alleviate stress and confusion of overwhelmed healthcare employees.
Hospitals, too, are overwhelmed. Data flowing in from various systems often goes unnoticed or unpackaged, a particular troubling problem for the senior population. When there’s a patient transferring in from a senior home to a hospital for emergency care, a health record of some kind may accompany them. A fully loaded paper chart may only be shuffled through and details lost.