How providers can tackle rising acuity

Dave Wessinger
Dave Wessinger

Much has been written about the “Silver Tsunami” – a phenomenon used to describe the rising population of individuals over age 65. For long-term care providers, the growing number of aging seniors presents a business challenge, one that we've dubbed the Acuity Conundrum. However, with every business challenge brings with it potential business opportunities, which I explain here.  

What is the Acuity Conundrum? 

Some senior living and long-term care providers have underestimated the implications of the rising influx of seniors entering their facilities at a more advanced age and with more complex health needs. According to the National Survey of Residential Care Facilities, 50% of senior living residents have three or more chronic conditions, while 42% have Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. Facilities are more frequently tasked with higher comorbidity rates while operating with fewer resources.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents of a joint survey by McKnight's Long-Term Care News and PointClickCare stated they are seeing a surge in resident acuity, yet 45% said they are not prepared for this rise. How can long-term care providers ensure that they can address the increasingly complex requirements and demands while providing quality care? Simply increasing staff is not the answer. Connecting all aspects of resident care and business operations is a prerequisite for solving the Acuity Conundrum.

Closing the technology gap

Providers must put a greater focus on re-aligning their business models to support higher acuity levels amongst their resident population with more clinically oriented staffing models and sophisticated technology solutions.

When it comes to technology, the senior living industry has traditionally trailed other areas of healthcare. However, this gap also presents an opportunity for the industry to learn from what worked and what didn't work in these areas when integrating new technologies. 

One key lesson is the importance of instituting a platform as the foundation for innovation. Compared to single-purpose or "best-of-breed" software solutions, comprehensive platforms have the advantage of optimizing many parts of the business, from enabling better connected resident care and documentation, to delivering high quality data insights for financial management and risk mitigation. This approach builds in a DNA for growth – moving beyond the ‘piecemeal' response for an immediate challenge today, to a planned approach for the future.

Time-consuming, error-prone manual workflows are still impeding the critical functions of care delivery and medical data collection. Staff also frequently must run between many different facilities throughout the day. While some of the data and information may be transferred to desktop software, the workflows in senior living facilities is largely dictated by the limited forms of communication and collaboration of outdated technology.

New mobile and cloud-based technologies now allow central data collection and documentation of care delivery, medication management and other important functions. These solutions can be adapted to the needs of the different team members and executives responsible for resident care and business management. For example, wellness coordinators can now use iPads or smartphones to easily provide updates on changes in a resident's condition. That data is recorded directly at the point of care and securely and centrally stored in real time, so that all the right people have access to the right information at the right time, and can act on it without delay.

Embracing high-touch design for adoption

Many care workers are skeptical of new technologies, and often rightly so. Based on my experiences working with organizations implementing EHRs and other healthcare systems, I have observed that the lack of a good user interface design slows down the time to success.  

The rise of mobile technologies with touch interfaces will make a huge difference. Just as residents in senior living facilities are using iPads to have Skype video conversations with their family members, an increasing number of senior living facilities will equip their staff with touch-friendly, easy-to-use apps on mobile devices.

Already the difference I see between frontline user adoption of new mobile devices versus old desktop systems is staggering. Thanks to touch computing, what once was only reluctantly - if at all - accepted, has now turned many care workers into fans of adding technology to their workflow. It has been eye-opening how much great user interface design influences technology adoption.

Anywhere, anytime documentation aids business users

On the other end of the spectrum are the people in administrative and business operations positions. While they may focus less on mobile solutions, they need the ability to slice and dice critical information in different ways. Better data collection and dashboards can provide them with invaluable insights.

Executives may not need to see all levels of detail on all residents, but in combination, the captured information will provide insights to better evaluate service provision, staffing requirements and potential risk or compliance issues. These insights can then be put into action. For example, time capture at point of care helps identify unscheduled services and makes adequate planning possible. Technology can define staffing needs based on varying acuity levels in the facility, promoting better outcome management.

Executives and staff are able to enter data and access information from anywhere on laptops, desktop computers, kiosks or tablets. The form of information capture and exchange is flexible, depending on the needs of each team member. It's all about getting the right business insights and empowering the right people to get the right information at the right time. It's about working smarter, not harder.

Demographic trends play a major role when it comes to the changing landscape of the long-term care industry.  In order to stay ahead, providers need to look at technology that is flexible, scalable and interoperable. The right technology strategy is critical to solving the challenges of the rising Acuity Conundrum with a connected and truly resident-centric approach to senior care.

Dave Wessinger is the co-founder and CTO of PointClickCare.

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