Dr. Eleanor Barbera

At Maimonides Medical Center, 24 frail older adults were taught to use laptops so that they could manage their health information from home. The technology facilitated communication between patients and providers and improved the quality of life of participants.

The program was a collaboration between the Department of Geriatrics at Maimonides and the Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), who trained the elders and installed the laptops in their homes. I met with OATS founder Tom Kamber, Ph.D., to follow up on our conversation earlier this year and to hear more about how technology can play a role in reducing costs and improving the quality of care for nursing home residents.

Kamber was enthusiastic about the Maimonides program, noting that the elders, with an average age of 85, were able to use the devices to manage information, communicate with the care team and explore areas of interest.

Fun, he emphasized, is crucial to success.

The desire to connect with the grands on Facebook is a more powerful motivator to learn new skills than is tracking blood sugar levels.

For facilities, particularly those working in healthcare systems focused on providing care at the lowest cost (i.e. in the community or in skilled nursing rather than in the hospital), the ability to remain virtually connected provides a host of benefits. Patients remain within the network, medical issues can be tracked and health crises can be averted before needing expensive hospitalizations. Tailored health information can be offered effortlessly, such as sending out post-surgery information videos at a scheduled time. Patient and family satisfaction increases, as does that of care providers who can quickly answer questions via email rather than return lengthy phone calls at the end of a long workday.

From a mental health standpoint, the program is a winner. Residents and their families are typically anxious about discharge and how to manage once they’re home. A virtual system reduces anxiety because it allows for easy access to medical professionals, offers continuity of care and averts costly, stressful and frequently debilitating hospitalizations.

It also presents the opportunity for elders and their family members to refer back to written directions rather than relying on recall of verbal instructions and it organizes the information for them. Anyone who has observed a resident opening a messy sock drawer to pull out meal tickets with indecipherable medical notes on them will know how important this is.

Other mental health wins include the reduction of depression and isolation through virtual connections with family members and friends and the use of what Kamber calls “enforced reflection time” in the course of rehabilitation to learn the computer system. Minimizing downtime during a rehab stay lessens opportunities for anxious rumination and gives residents something positive and empowering to focus on.

The Maimonides program is clearly valuable and replicable in a long-term care environment and it’s just one of the many partnerships and innovative programs with which OATS has been involved. At Team Senior Planet, for example, people 60+ learn together to use gym equipment and to track progress on Fitbits. For a healthier workforce, borrow this idea for staff members.

For those considering the use of technology to maintain contact with residents following discharge, be sure to contact OATS before rather than after choosing software to ensure an elder-friendly system that will serve your community well.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is a Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category of the American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with over 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.