By Dave Wessinger, chief technology officer, PointClickCare.
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.
With more than 30 years of experience in the senior care market, Coral Lindahl, RN-BC, CLNC, C-NE, CCN-C, RAC-CT, PointClickCare coordinator at Ebenezer Ridges Care Center in Burnsville, MN, has seen first-hand how the implementation of technology has helped improve readmission rates. Despite dealing with an increasing level of resident acuity, Lindahl has still seen more than a 10 percent reduction in hospital readmissions since implementing new technology such as an electronic health record (EHR) system. In other words, even with their patient population requiring more complex care, technology has helped Ebenezer Ridges Care Center reduce its number of hospital readmissions.
Reducing paper and medication errors
Another area where technology has helped improve care transitions is by reducing the amount of paper, and therefore confusion, which follows a resident along his or her care continuum. Lindahl remembers when she used to have to send over 30 photocopied pages to the hospital with a resident. With new technologies, such as electronic transfer forms, Lindahl can send residents with less than five physical papers, and everything is organized electronically.
Researchers with the University of Missouri’s Sinclair School of Nursing found that, on average, clinical staff spends up to two hours per day making calls to clarify patient medication orders. Technology reduces the confusion and misunderstanding brought on by illegible hand-written papers and makes for a seamless transition. Electronic documents are also updated in real-time, which reduces medication errors resulting from quick transfers between facilities that previously relied on paper documentation.
Increased focus on person-centered care
Technology plays an important role in the senior care industry, but there are some things that computers don’t have the ability to detect, such as the mood of a resident. While technology can help save clinical staff the time and effort that goes into documenting resident information, it’s important that a person-centered approach to care is always maintained. With an EHR, care providers are able to focus more on patient interaction so they will notice changes in behaviors that could be signs of more significant problems.
Technology can also help care providers see patterns that previously would go unnoticed. Having the ability to see these patterns, such as a patient asking for pain medication at the same time each day, can help them plan better ways to treat patients, leading to better outcomes.
Technology has enabled many innovations and advancements in the healthcare industry, and it will continue to do so. When it comes to care transitions, technology can help to lower hospital readmissions, reduce paper use and therefore medication errors, and allow time for a more person-centered approach to care. The ideal technology for care transitions would enable providers to become better connected with their partners in care, whether they are hospitals, long-term care communities, ACOs, physician practices or pharmacies. Through this effort and a strong technology infrastructure, we will be able to drive better outcomes for both people and healthcare businesses alike.