The case for connectivity in long-term care

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Mark Byers
Mark Byers

The Department of Labor estimates that 27 million people will be using some type of paid long-term care services by the year 2050. That's a sharp rise from the current estimate of eight million who used those services in 2012, according to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among other things, that influx will exacerbate the pressure felt by LTC facilities using paper-based health records or legacy electronic systems. Those organizations are hearing from physicians, families and patient-safety advocates who want updated systems for better care coordination and access — demands that will intensify as resident numbers rise.

Fortunately, there are now significant benefits to LTC facility adoption of electronic health records (EHRs). Implementation is a win for all parties involved, thanks to improved monitoring for physicians, enhanced access for families and streamlined workflow for LTC facilities.

Improving information access

Participating in today's expanding care continuum can be difficult for many LTC facilities. The majority of residents suffer from multiple health conditions and, as such, must be seen frequently by various specialists. However, paper-based health records and older electronic systems are ill equipped for the task of care coordination. They aggravate scheduling issues, require error-prone manual data entry and limit access to medical records to only a handful of on-site personnel.

By solving those three issues, EHRs can help improve care coordination and lead to better outcomes — especially for residents with chronic conditions. The reasons for adopting a robust EHR in a LTC setting are relatively simple. First, documentation is accessible to multiple providers across the continuum of care, which enhances the ability to monitor care in real time and decreases the need for redundant tests and procedures. In addition, features such as drug-drug and drug-allergy alerts help protect resident safety. Finally, the risk of erroneous manual data entry is reduced.

Perhaps just as importantly, EHR data can be shared easily with residents' families, as well as with other approved caregivers, through portal technology. This allows LTC facilities to meet increasing family demands for better access to information about the care of their loved ones.

LTC facilities pressured to provide quality care economically also receive significant benefits from the streamlined workflow enabled by EHRs. Decreased paperwork and manual data entry lowers labor costs. Rather than wasting time shuffling paper, staff can spend more time with residents, increasing satisfaction equally among employees, residents and families.  

Powerful care coordination

When evaluating EHRs, long-term care directors should consider several internal and external factors for optimal use. For example, to accelerate staff adoption, look for a system that's easy to learn and to use for common tasks such as entering vital signs, creating clinical notes, and ordering tests and treatments. An EHR also should make it simple to satisfy data collection needs, including Minimum Data Set and facility-specific requirements.

For outward-facing functions, first make certain the EHR is government certified to ensure problem-free data exchange with other providers. Then, look for a system that facilitates care coordination with acute-care facilities, diagnostic facilities such as radiology and labs, and specialists. Finally, confirm the EHR provides the ability for residents and their families to have improved access to their care plans, medication schedules and upcoming provider appointments.

LTC facilities cannot afford to remain on the outskirts of today's rapidly changing healthcare landscape. And, with the growing need for LTC services comes a growing need for LTC facilities to claim their essential place in the care continuum. Shifting from legacy systems and paper-based processes to an EHR that supports improved care coordination for all stakeholders will help LTC facilities prosper in this new age of healthcare and best serve their patient population.

Mark Byers is CEO, president and co-founder of DSS Inc. He is a Service Disabled Veteran (United States Air Force). He has also been actively involved in the development of electronic health record software for over 16 years.

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