By Arlene Maxim, senior clinical officer, Axxess.
I’ve heard from several home healthcare agency administrators that they are preparing to don their scrubs for the first time in years to enter the front lines. This is because the long-term care industry continues to face one of its greatest threats in history, a classic business crisis of supply and demand.
In a recent survey, 88% of respondents stated their home care business was negatively affected by the caregiver shortage, and another survey reported in Bloomberg Businessweek saw 85 percent of organizations in Wisconsin did not possess the necessary staff to cover the shifts scheduled.
This problem extends nationwide. Clinicians across the United States have been tasked with providing care to an increasing patient population, which will continue to grow with what is commonly cited as the “Silver Tsunami” of 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day.
As a result, the aging population is anticipated to reach 88 million in 2050. And yet, we must consider that many retiring nurses are baby boomers fated to become patients themselves. Without enough staff to meet the needs of the growing patient population, organizations are plagued by missed visits and the consequences. Fortunately, some good has come amid the pandemic, most notably that technology has been given a boost.
Technology has also become much more prominent in healthcare with secure mobile communication that enables caregivers to spend more time on patients, along with wearable devices to track activity data and artificial intelligence to predict outcomes. Telehealth and remote care monitoring have grown exponentially due to COVID-19 and can quickly address the staffing crisis by augmenting existing practices and boosting efficiency and productivity.
Benefits of Telehealth
Through its ability to maintain patient-provider relationships over a distance, even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledged telehealth as an essential component in care continuity. Telehealth also eases the impact of nursing shortages in rural communities and beyond by improving efficiency, as caregivers utilizing telehealth can help remotely care for more patients in less time.
Furthermore, remote patient monitoring (RPM) — a subset of telehealth that directly transmits patient data over a distance – has also proven to be extremely valuable in strengthening efficiency. RPM enables users to continuously monitor acutely or chronically ill patients from a distance through wearable sensors and AI-powered analytics.
These tools and benefits have, in fact, accelerated the adoption of RPM. A survey conducted by Business Insider Intelligence showed that 23.4 million patients in the United States (about the population of New York) used remote patient monitoring services and tools in 2020, and by 2024, these services and tools are expected to reach 30 million patients (about the population of Texas).
It is also important to note that healthcare workers are not the only ones who can reap the benefits of RPM. RPM can help family caregivers provide better care to their loved ones. This is because RPM can lessen many stressors that come from being a family caregiver, such as having to correctly execute tasks clinicians typically perform when the caregiver possesses little to no training or knowledge. This comes at an opportune time, as the industry must encourage more families to get involved with their loved one’s care. The shortage is not going to go away miraculously, and the current number of caregivers cannot meet the needs of the growing elderly population, meaning involving families is as critical as ever.
While this shortage is, unfortunately, going to be with us for a long time, technology can help alleviate the strain today. In the future, however, we must advocate for increased accessibility to home care services and encourage Congress to make newer technologies reimbursable.
As costs for telehealth equipment decrease and connectivity improves, the technology is primed to grow, so the industry should grow with it. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) cannot make the determination to get telehealth paid. Therefore, we must go to Congress and encourage everyone to contact their representatives and ask them to overturn the rule that we cannot bill for telehealth. The technology will not only help the industry address the shortage in the short term, but also in providing newer, advanced forms of care in the years to come.