Technology-based learning collaboratives are an underutilized resource within long-term care and may be a great tool to help the field develop a pandemic preparation plan for the future. That’s according to experts at a session on tech innovations in crisis management during the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies 2021 Collaborative Care & Health IT Innovations Summit, which took place online recently. 

Panelist David Wong, M.D., chief medical officer in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, discussed his involvement with the agency’s “Telemedicine Hack,” a 10-week virtual peer-to-peer learning collaborative that took place last summer. It was designed to accelerate telemedicine implementation for providers around the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The approach led to more than 85% of participants conducting and billing at least one video-based telemedicine visit during the pandemic — a vast improvement over pre-pandemic telemedicine implementation. 

Wong says online learning collaboratives can be great for situations where not much evidence exists yet in terms of best practices, such as a pandemic or other public health crisis. Instead, peers who are doing well share their stories and best practices for others to learn from and replicate. 

“I’m a believer now in the learning collaborative model, and I think in a lot of different spheres, it’s underutilized,” Wong said at the session last week. “It’s a tool that can be used more to address health disparities, and in long-term post-acute care settings, this could be a model that is used to take a look back at this past year of the pandemic, particularly in the early days when nursing homes were really hit hard. Maybe there could have been an opportunity there to deploy a learning collaborative for better diffusion and adoption of best practices as 15,000 nursing homes were learning what to do, without any evidence-based guidance.”

In a separate session, Joseph Coughlin, Ph.D., founder and director of the MIT AgeLab, noted that the pandemic served as a propellant, accelerating technology and related services at least five to seven years faster than planned. In the process, it changed perceptions and attitudes about technology, particularly among older adults.

The value proposition now has been raised high enough for older adults to get past bad design or expense to give smart devices, tablets, cameras and other technology a try, Coughlin said.

“Across the generations, there is greater trust in technology, comfort with using it and downright interest,” he said. 

Those who missed the summit can access on-demand content through Sept. 20 for a fee via the LeadingAge CAST website.