Many seniors are hoping to “age in place” and remain in their homes and communities throughout the continuum of care.
Home health agencies and visiting nurse associations recognize their critical role in supporting seniors (and other patient population segments) who need at-home healthcare. By engaging these patients in their actual homes, nursing staff can help seniors maintain a certain level of independence as they actively empower patients in their own care. Virtual care technology can help these organizations (and the patients they support) without being seen as disruptive to staff workflows or intrusive to patients’ lifestyles. The impact on the patient’s health is compelling:
- Staff can more conveniently – and more frequently – check-in with their patients to monitor progress and reinforce the care plan
- Additional care team members – including specialists, pharmacists, and/or medically certified interpreters – can also be brought into the virtual visit to address questions about medication or emerging issues without disrupting the patient’s home life
- Remote family members can also participate in the virtual visits to remain aware of their loved one’s condition and care decisions
Being able to continue monitoring and motivating patients at-home helps nursing staff influence their patients’ well-being as many interventions can be virtually resolved in real-time, resulting in the patient remaining comfortably at home vs. being transferred to the hospital. Seniors’ preference in devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets or PCs) and modality (e.g., video, text, SMS, or email) enables this patient population to interact with their home health providers on their terms and lessen the risks of feeling isolated and disconnected from timely care.
Financial Impact of Virtual Care
In addition to improving health outcomes, virtual care can also positively impact financial outcomes:
- Improved productivity of agency staff: Nurse can convert their drive-time to patient-time and see more patients during their shift. (Nursing staff can see at least three patients virtually in the time required to drive to/from and visit one person at-home.)
- Minimized use of EMS and the ER: The overall healthcare system saves nearly $2,000 with each ER visit averted. (The Health Care Cost Institute reports that the average cost of an ER visit is $1,917.)
- Reduced readmissions and related penalties: The healthcare system saves over $12,000 with each avoided readmission. (The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that the average cost of a readmission for Medicaid patient is $12,300 and $13,800 for a Medicare patient.)
Exploring options which provide seniors with more flexibility and freedom in how/when they access care is emerging as a key issue across the overall health system. Providing this population segment with virtual care that is both convenient and compassionate can help seniors continue to safely age in place. As Jim Johnson, Director of Education, Aging, and Economic Development Initiatives at the Kenan Institute of UNC, remarked, “Aging in place has its risks, particularly for our most vulnerable elderly.” However, he advocates that technology can “increase quality of life and reduce healthcare costs” amongst seniors. In 2030, one in every five US residents will be older than the age of 65 according to the US Census Bureau. Integrating virtual care into an agency’s care delivery model will help optimize care, minimize readmissions, and strengthen the referral/revenue stream.