As people age, their healthcare needs can become more challenging, and they require more attention. For instance, while only 7% of 18-44 year-olds suffer from multiple chronic conditions, 25% of 45-64 year-olds do, and that number increases to 52% for those older than 65. As the elderly population continues to grow, and as the existing physician shortage also increases, the healthcare community faces the challenge of meeting the growing demand for services.
There’s another factor that impacts this process as older adults want to live at home. More than three-quarters of Americans older than 50 want to remain in their homes or communities as long as possible, which means they need regular access to healthcare services. There needs to be a balance between healthcare needs and living at home, which is where the home-based care model comes into play.
There are about 2.3 million people who provide in-home care for older Americans. Also, there’s a significantly larger group of 34 million Americans who provide unpaid care to older adults, most of whom are family members. That’s not surprising, given that older Americans expect their long-term needs to be provided by family members rather than professionals.
For both groups of caregivers – but especially for a large number of family caregivers – technology could provide a solution to creating that balance. Connected health services can offer a new model for effective care that ensures access, care continuity, and cost-effectiveness. Using new tools, healthcare providers can deliver a range of health services, from diagnoses to therapy to disease management – services that traditionally would be provided through in-person care – while reducing the time and cost burden on patients, providers, and caregivers.
As people age, their healthcare needs can become more complex, requiring support from multiple specialists in addition to their primary physicians. Connected health enables these providers to collaborate and share information digitally through telehealth systems and EHRs, to ensure consistent and appropriate care is delivered and complications due to conflicting treatments can be avoided. Rather than visiting multiple doctors in-person or even having to participate in numerous virtual visits, telehealth can bring different clinicians together for a single virtual visit to save time and provide a complete picture for patients and their caregivers at once.
Chronic Disease Management
Chronic disease patients often need very regular care, which can become a burden for their families, providers, and other caregivers. Telehealth enables regular virtual visits at whatever frequency is required, or even ad hoc consultations when needed, without dealing with office visits. RPM devices can transmit health data into integrated EHRs, where providers can access them during or before visits, providing a constant stream of updated data to support patient care. Connected health creates an opportunity for higher engagement levels between physicians and patients to more effectively manage chronic conditions.
Mental Health Services
It emphasizes mental well-being as physical health, which is good for the 20% of people over 55 who suffer from mental health issues. Mental and behavioral health providers can leverage telehealth to support older patients who have mobility or transportation challenges or who prefer the comfort and convenience of their own homes, giving providers a better sense of home environments that may impact mental health.
When patients are discharged from hospitals or other facilities, they may require post-procedure monitoring to require frequent office visits or longer hospitalization traditionally. Remote patient monitoring can reduce hospital stays and in-person visits while increasing the frequency of data around health statistics – blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, weight, activity levels, etc. RPM devices can record and deliver patient data frequently so providers can quickly review them and contact patients directly with any comments or concerns. Automated alerts can be set up to immediately alert providers if measurements reach specific thresholds and patients require immediate attention. Virtual visits can support RPM by enabling regular check-ins.
Support for Family Caregivers
Older patients may have family members helping attend to healthcare needs. Those people likely have other responsibilities as well, including work and supporting their families. Digital healthcare tools can provide a layer of information, communication, and access to help reduce the burden on those family caregivers and enable them the freedom to live their own lives while successfully supporting older parents or grandparents. Setting up telehealth visits, for instance, is much simpler and cost-effective than having to transport patients to doctors’ offices. Patient portals can also make scheduling, information exchange, and form completion much more accessible and convenient. It ensures caregivers have the information and skills they need to support their older family members, including quickly asking questions about their care.
It’s inevitable, people will age, and the numbers are clear; as that happens, health needs increase, which increases the burden on the providers and caregivers. Home-based care in an age of technology can help manage that burden and help older adults continue to live at home while receiving the care they need.
To learn more about how connected health can transform healthcare for older patients, connect with us here.