One of the fastest growing trends in health care today is home health care. Not only is the American population older than ever before, thanks in large part to the Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age, there is a growing desire among older adults to stay in their own homes as long as possible. The desire to “age in place,” as opposed to moving into an assisted living or nursing care facility, or even relocating to a child or other relative’s home, isn’t necessarily a new concept. However, advances in technology and the increased pressures on the health care delivery system are bringing it to the forefront of care planning, policy making, and new delivery models.
While historically, home care has been underappreciated and underrepresented in health care planning, it’s gaining traction thanks to its proven ability to help reduce costs while still maintaining — even improving — the quality of care. That change begs the question, then, of what home care will look like going forward in to the next 10 to 20 years. The answer? Expect more technology.
Technology in Home Care
Technology is already making a significant difference in the delivery and management of home health care services. For instance, home health care agencies are using new software tools to better manage patients and treatment plans, and to streamline administrative operations. Web-based tools that allow for instant, secure communications between providers and families, more efficient documentation, more accurate billing, and improved scheduling are already streamlining operations and making it easier for patients and their families to access and manage care. These streamlined operations will make it possible for even smaller agencies to remain competitive.
However, it’s not just the tools that help providers manage care that will revolutionize the future of home health care. Technological advances in the actual delivery of care are expected to make it possible for patients who currently may be limited to inpatient options to be at home while they recover from illness or injury or deal with a chronic illness. More specifically, within the next few years we can expect to see:
Advances in telehealth. Telehealth is an important part of efforts to modernize health care. For patients who live in rural or remote areas, have transportation issues, or who have disabilities or illnesses that make it challenging to get to a doctor’s office, telehealth can make the difference between seeing a doctor or not. Recent changes to the legislation have made it possible for more people to access telehealth services, meaning that it will soon become the norm to see a doctor via an online videoconference or other method of distance communication. As many people who require home health services are living with chronic conditions such as diabetes or COPD, telehealth allows them to have the necessary regular visits with their providers, but without the hassles of visiting an office.
Improved monitoring capabilities. One reason that aging in place has been an issue for many people is that caregivers have concerns about leaving an older or sick relative alone for long stretches without help. Services that allow subscribers to call for help by pressing a button on a lanyard or bracelet have helped, but new advances in monitoring take them to the next level.
We are already seeing homes equipped with sensors and monitors designed to keep people safe; for example, motion sensors can be installed and send alerts when there movement isn’t detected for a certain amount of time, or if the patient enters the room and doesn’t leave within a specified period. Monitors can also be programmed to remind patients to take medication or perform other tasks. Wearable health devices, such as heart monitors, help providers keep track of their patients, and alert them to when there is an issue.
Improved communication and coordination of care. Another major trend in health care is improved coordination of care, which is largely being addressed via Accountable Care Organizations. However, home health care providers are becoming increasingly more important members of care teams, and are taking on an enhanced role in accountable care. Technological tools, including the Web portals that allow home health providers access to a patient’s electronic medical record and real-time communication with other providers allows them to provide even better care. For example, a home health provider can send an instant alert to a provider regarding a change in condition, allowing for a more rapid response than in the past. With access to more information, care will become seamless and integrated, with less duplication of effort.
The future of home health care is technologically advanced, but also likely to be of higher quality, given the tools that providers will have at their fingertips. Thanks to modern tools and technology, home care will bring an old-fashioned concept into the 21st century.