Using technology to fuel innovative service to older adults

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Denise Rabidoux
Denise Rabidoux
We are at a critical point in long-term care. The perfect storm is upon us: baby boomers hitting 65, the decline of the U.S. economy and housing market, increasing healthcare costs that demand we rethink our business. Long-term care providers who don't evolve will be passed by.

More than 10,000 baby boomers reach the age of 65 each day and about two-thirds have at least one chronic disease. These people are facing tough challenges and choices as they prepare for their future. A recent survey found 82% of adults over age 50 who plan to retire and 78% of retirees are concerned about being in an institutional environment that is not as comfortable as a home.

Translation: The next generation of potential customers wants to age at home.

Many seniors are now unable to sell their homes and are forced to stay where they are. In fact, 95% of older adults will never live in a retirement community or nursing home. You can either focus on the 5% or innovate and become a desirable choice for the other 95%.

Older adults of the future not only want to stay at home, they will demand it. Yet they may need many of the benefits assisted-living residents receive: help managing their health, personal interaction with care providers and a social connection with others. Studies have shown that social isolation can be as detrimental to one's health as smoking, so connectivity that doesn't interfere with independence is key.

At Evangelical Homes of Michigan, we decided five years ago to meet the challenge head-on by providing services beyond our property lines in order to capitalize on the true market opportunity for our business. We are confident that this shift in care model will meet the growing and changing needs of baby boomers.

Adapting to changing needs

Like many senior care providers, we offered traditional services in the home, such as private-duty home care, Medicare certified home health care, care management and more. However, we knew these services alone wouldn't be enough to differentiate ourselves as a valuable provider for seniors who were looking for a way to age at home. Our customers needed more personalized attention to overcome their health challenges and satisfy their social needs.  

So in 2010, we launched our continuing care at home program, LifeChoices. It is Michigan's first membership program designed to deliver a range of services that support seniors and help them maintain their independence while remaining in their homes.  With this program, we added LifeChoice Solutions, which provides another level of assistance through a concierge-type service for everything from home modifications to personal services.

Over the past 18 months, we have seen tremendous success with our LifeChoices programs. Integrating technology and lifestyle coaches to deliver individualized care has driven our success. The technology has been instrumental because the device we use facilitates a cost effective, scalable, high-quality program.

The device is an easy-to-use tablet that stays in the client's home and has both wellness and social networking capabilities, including customizable wellness surveys, health information, educational games, as well as simple messaging and photo sharing. This technology helps increase individual participation in maintaining good health and strengthens ties to the community.

The device gives us a glimpse into the daily lives of our clients and provides enough information that our lifestyle coaches will know the best way to guide and work with each senior. We can engage with the member to proactively find out what they need, whether that's assistance with meals, managing their health, scheduling a visit with a personal trainer, or participating in activities.

But it's not just about the device. It's about how we — especially our lifestyle coaches — are able to use it to do our jobs faster and more effectively while still meeting the needs and desires of the seniors. 

Take Betty, for example. A 75-year old woman who lives by herself in her home, Betty is healthy and active but her closest family is an hour away. She's a member of LifeChoice Solutions and has the device unit in her home. Each morning while eating breakfast, she turns on the device and answers questions such as, “How are you feeling today?” “Did you take your medication?” and “How much have you exercised in the last two days?”

The answers are sent directly to Jim, Betty's lifestyle coach, who reviews her information daily, along with that of 20 other seniors. Based on Betty's answers, Jim decides if there is any immediate action he needs to take. If Betty usually exercises for an hour each day, but in the last two days she hasn't exercised at all, Jim will call to find out if she's hurt or sick, or has just been too busy to exercise. The benefits are twofold: We're able to prevent potentially greater health issues and provide individuated personal connection.

We're helping people like Betty every day, which is why we are confident this type of service will improve the health and wellness of our clients as well as the financial stability and growth of Evangelical Homes of Michigan. In just 24 months, membership has doubled and some members are as far as two hours away, a distance we would not be able to reach with traditional in-home services. 

We have reduced healthcare costs by delivering care through lifestyle coaches instead of higher-cost nurses. And we have maximized each lifestyle coach's time by taking the guesswork out of individual check-ins, making it easier for our team to reach out to the right people at the right time.  Looking forward, we are expecting to grow this program to 90 participants over the next year.

Killing the business?

At first glance, it might appear to some that we are competing with ourselves by helping people stay out of assisted living facilities and age in place. However, we believe our focus on matching the needs and wants of seniors with our services, whether they are on our campus or in their homes, will bring us great success.

We are not satisfied focusing on only the 5% in assisted living; we must be able to reach the other 95%.  It is essential to our community and our organization that we have programs and solutions to support all older adults — wherever they call home. 

Denise Rabidoux is president and CEO of Evangelical Homes of Michigan.

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