Gearing up for Baby Boomers: Tech improves engagement and outcomes

By Bradley Waugh
08:54 AM

In 2010, before the first of the Baby Boomer generation began turning 65, 13 percent of the U.S. population was over that age. With 10,000 Baby Boomers now turning 65 each day, this demographic will grow to represent 18 percent of the U.S. population by 2030. [1]

In spite of greater access to healthcare advancements than previous generations, Baby Boomers actually have more chronic health problems than their parents. [2] With almost 40 percent of Baby Boomers diagnosed as obese, for example, obesity-related conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol and heart disease are more common – which means a greater need for healthcare services as this population ages.

The significant increase in the number of seniors with chronic health conditions will challenge a healthcare industry already facing provider shortages and a mandate to cut costs while ensuring all patients receive proper care.

At the same time, the shifting business model toward quality of care is changing the way healthcare providers engage and care for their patients. Increasingly, consumers and payers are looking at quality of care, making traditional enterprise-centric care delivery models incomplete.

These challenges can be addressed today, but only if healthcare organizations are willing to look beyond the traditional care settings that exist within the four walls of their facilities. By definition, “patient engagement” and managed care must include visibility and management of patients outside the enterprise.

Case-in-point: A growing body of research demonstrates that a higher level of engagement between provider and patient leads to increased compliance with discharge instructions, better outcomes, fewer hospital readmissions and a lower cost of care. Despite educational outreach strategies to emphasize medication compliance and encourage proactive identification of potential complications, most healthcare organizations find these strategies are most effective when the patient is in the facility with easy access to staff support. Once patients are home and cannot easily reach their providers, the beneficial behavior changes.

Go home with the patient

Healthcare organizations can more effectively manage patients’ conditions by changing the relationship from transactional and episodic to engaged and ongoing. “Following” the patient home, increasing immediate access to healthcare services, and maintaining clinical visibility into patients’ health represent the emerging healthcare delivery model. For more than a decade, telehealthcare (communications-based monitoring for personal emergency response (PERS), care and health) has been recognized as a viable solution to enhance a provider’s ability to manage care after discharge. Historically, however, the use of multiple telehealthcare applications has been fragmented and often used for narrowly focused programs. Today, with the availability of integrated engagement platforms, that can provide a wide range of monitoring for care coordination, admission management and early intervention, the opportunities to extent the care delivery model have never been better.

There are a number of technologies available to connect patients to providers, which means different departments within an organization might choose different solutions to focus on benefits to their specific patient populations. A social services department might offer personal emergency alert devices to elderly patients living alone, for instance, while the home health department might offer patients with congestive heart failure (CHF) telemonitoring devices that transmit daily patient vital signs and weight to a telehealth nurse. While both programs positively affect patient care, the benefit is limited only to those patients and those departments.

Healthcare organizations can maximize the value of telehealthcare technology by implementing a fully integrated program that leverages all components of a telehealthcare solution – telecare/PERS, telehealth monitoring and a specialized call center – available to patients and providers throughout the organization.

Focus on platform, not device

Ensuring a successful telehealthcare implementation throughout an enterprise first requires a change in focus. Telehealthcare is not only about the end-point devices. Instead, evaluating the end-to-end patient engagement experience can identify opportunities to utilize specialized devices, software and services to ensure an integrated and effective solution. Technology is optimized when viewed as an integrated patient engagement platform – a strategy to build more intelligent and valuable relationships between providers and patients.

Focusing only on a device may solve one problem, but often leads to another. A home monitor may help patients access immediate care, but what happens if they want to call a nurse or physician, but experience long switchboard wait times, their calls are abandoned or they are confronted with an IVR system they find too complex? What happens if they do not have access to a 24-hour call center with specially-trained personnel to evaluate the patient’s needs? How do you engage and deploy your current staff to manage non-clinical and clinical triage, ensuring a seamless continuum of care? If the patient cannot easily reach someone for advice or help, if you lack visibility into their status and health – a possible hospital readmission – is often the next step.

A technology-supported program that improves the “visibility” of patients to their providers creates better opportunities for early intervention. For example, when a personal emergency response signal is received, a call center can send assistance, while health personnel can communicate with the patient and responders during transit to assess the situation and coordinate care.

Consider another example in which a CHF patient’s weight trends upward from the previous days – a potential sign of fluid retention. Use of an alert to a nurse, or even the patient’s call to the center, provides the opportunity for a nurse to discuss self-help measures with the patient. Reviewing diet, medications and activities to identify a possible cause for the weight gain and recommend changes might prevent an escalation that results in hospital admission.

Finally, consider what happens when a patient calls your organization; do they get routed, voicemail boxes, or speak to a night answering service? Or do you offer “1 call” resolution platform that ensures rapid answering, minimal abandonment and effective scheduling for increased engagement, satisfaction and lower no-show rates for improved doctor efficiency?

In all these cases, the key is improved patient engagement, visibility and the opportunity for early intervention. Technology plays a critical role in the healthcare industry’s transformation to patient-centric, collaborative care that optimizes financial and human resources. A technology-supported, integrated patient engagement platform coupled with the expertise to design and manage new care delivery models, provides the support patients require to positively affect outcomes and reduce costs. Organizations that take steps today to meet future needs not only give themselves a competitive edge in the marketplace, but they also establish a sustainable solution for an improved patient experience.

[1] Pew Research Center. “Baby Boomers Retire.” December 29, 2010. http://www.pewresearch.org/daily-number/baby-boomers-retire/

[2] King DE, Matheson E, Chirina S, et al. The status of Baby Boomers’ health in the United States: The healthiest generation? JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(5):385-386. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.2006