Data systems are a key to success

Electronic health records, dependable IT solutions are essential to modern operators

By Dave Wessinger

Now is the time for seniors housing providers to strengthen data systems in an effort to improve transitions of care and data exchange. 

Data is becoming more necessary than ever as care networks narrow. Facilities need to be able to quickly demonstrate their care model is worthy of receiving referrals. Further, ever-tightening regulations make choosing the right electronic health record (EHR) platform more critical. 

With demands for reporting and performance-based payment initiatives on the horizon, choosing an EHR platform and partner to help manage the business of care can make all the difference in an organization’s ability to remain viable.

Long-term and post-acute care facilities need to be able to extract, aggregate and report their data. When using multiple or disparate systems, it’s a challenge to accomplish this efficiently, accurately and in real-time. 

The senior population has been underserved in the healthcare information technology (HIT) revolution, which started with the federal passage of meaningful EHR incentives in 2010. Shifts in patient demographics, combined with HIT initiatives, are creating a perfect storm that could overwhelm senior care organizations.

Thanks to advances in modern medicine, people are living longer and healthier lives. It’s no surprise that seniors in their 80s are the fastest-growing patient demographic. With the sheer number of people in the Baby Boomer generation, by 2030, one in five Americans will be over the age of 65, according to U.S. Census data

However, with this longevity comes a rise in chronic health conditions, resulting in more trips to the doctor and more patient transfers between senior care and acute care providers. These patients will grow their health IT footprint and access data networks more frequently as their healthcare needs increase. 

Senior patients — and their insurers — will demand better, smoother transitions of care than today’s providers have the ability to perform. This is because Health IT lags in the senior care market despite the uptick in technology adoption by the healthcare industry overall. Fortunately, we are seeing some organizations turning the corner to improve outcomes and enhance financial performance and staff optimization. 

 

Why senior care is slow to adopt EHRs

To illustrate the trends in healthcare IT for the senior market, let’s consider a 78-year-old man suffering from both chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and high blood pressure. 

His senior living assistant suggests he visit his primary care physician about his persistent coughing and wheezing. The physician then refers him to a pulmonologist for further testing. By the time that patient finally sees the appropriate provider for just one of his two conditions, he has already obtained clinical data from three separate healthcare providers. 

While it may not seem like a major issue to have multiple pieces of clinical data being exported into one patient’s file, the fact is that the seniors housing sector has been continuously trailing behind other areas of healthcare in technology adoption. Most of the larger, national senior care organizations have implemented EHRs, but few smaller, independent providers have followed suit.

So, despite the need for sophisticated health IT software to handle patient data generated by senior patients, why is the senior care industry slower to adopt these new capabilities? We can trace this to misconceptions about many things, most commonly concerns around cost and the belief that implementing an EHR will be disruptive to business.

Many healthcare providers believe EHR platforms are expensive and overly complex. But the reality is that without enabling technology, critical functions of care delivery documentation and medical data collection will be impeded by inefficient, time-consuming, error-prone paper workflows. In other words, not using the technology will prove to be more expensive in terms of efficiency and outcomes. 

Moreover, healthcare providers can be skeptical of new technologies. To convince them of the value of EHRs, it’s important they have access to the right tools and adequate training to make HIT implementations successful. It is imperative that they know how the new solution will help them do their jobs better, improve outcomes and keep their organizations healthy in the long run.

 

Cloud-based EHRs move the needle

Cloud-based EHRs are scalable, cost-effective and interoperable. They are built on flexible technology that can guide senior care providers still stuck in paper workflows — or whose on-site EHR implementation has become too cumbersome to support — into the next evolution of digital health records. 

Cloud systems allow for central data collection and documentation of care delivery and medication management. They also make forms and documentation adaptable for the different team members responsible for resident care or business administration. This flexibility will help providers adopt tools to better manage rising acuity levels as well as increasing patient loads. 

For example, wellness coordinators can use tablets or smartphones to provide updates on a resident’s condition and acuity. That data is recorded directly at the point of care, and securely stored with HIPAA-grade encryption. When the right people have access to the right information at the right time — and can act on it without delay — they can make better care decisions and promise safer transitions of care.

The federal meaningful-use EHR incentive program also plays a role in HIT adoption, even though long-term care and skilled nursing organizations aren’t themselves yet eligible for incentive funds.

Implementing an EHR platform helps a senior care provider support the meaningful goals of the hospitals and physicians they work with, so it becomes an investment in more productive relationships with key care partners. 

This technology enables communication between desktop computers and mobile devices, improving patient care and communications among clinicians. Secure, HIPAA-compliant texting also allows physicians and clinical staff to correspond and collaborate on patient care regardless of location, further streamlining and enhancing the quality of patient care delivery while protecting patient privacy.

As we begin to manage the demographic shift in the senior population, we know technology is a necessity in promoting the efficiency that this coming “perfect storm” will require. Technology supports us; it sustains quality and operational objectives. Technology helps elevate the ability of the senior living industry to streamline workflows, lower the cost of care delivery, and improve care coordination and outcomes.

Healthcare providers have plenty of reasons to strengthen their systems to improve transitions of care and data exchange. Care networks are narrowing, facilities have to demonstrate that their care models are worthy of receiving referrals, and demands for reporting and performance-based payment initiatives are on the horizon. 

Choosing an EHR platform and partner to help manage the business of care can make all the difference in an organization’s ability to remain viable.

 

Dave Wessinger, co-founder and chief technology officer, is responsible for strategy, engineering and corporate development at PointClickCare. Prior to co-founding PointClickCare, Dave was a manager of IT for a multi-site provider and focused on software implementation and adoption.

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