Telehealth in its essence is nothing too complicated. The premise is that caregivers may use a range of telecommunications technologies and other digital tools to deliver health-related services and information. Wedded as we are to technology as a means of communication, this hardly seems earthshaking.
But the ramifications of telehealth are tremendous for senior living operators. Take the single example of patient monitoring via technology. According to one report from medical market research publisher Kaloroma Information, U.S. spending in this arena could top $8.7 billion by 2017.
Remote monitoring is just one aspect of telehealth, which may range from technologically sophisticated communications tools to means as simple as a telephone call.
When we look at some of the best telehealth technologies available, what benefits do they provide, both for the resident and the senior housing operator?
Live video is one of the most commonly recognized forms of telehealth, and one that may be especially suited to senior housing situations in which residents may not have ease of mobility. In this scenario, software facilitates live, two-way interactions between the patient and the provider. Live video may help a provider track a patient’s medical situation and make judgments as to necessary next steps.
Medical and health information technologies
Medical and health information technologies deliver a range of wellness data by digital means, which could be a significant benefit for seniors seeking more information about diverse medical conditions. Seniors could use interactive technologies such as live chat to join online discussion groups, or they may access pre-recorded videos, rather than troll the web for data from dubious sources. Senior housing providers could facilitate this by delivering simplified links via an accessible communications portal, one designed to ease seniors’ access to digital information.
Electronic records exchange technologies
Electronic records exchange technologies offer one possible benefit for senior housing providers who implement telehealth. Take for instance the experience of Kaiser Permanente dermatologists in San Diego: By sharing images with physicians by secure server, they were able to handle 800 cases per month, 50 percent more than if they relied on face-to-face visits. This example could stand as a lesson to senior housing executives. Clearly, the creative use of digital exchange tools can help ease pressure on staff by driving greater operational efficiencies.
Cost factors and quality of life can be dramatically impacted in senior residences where telehealth helps to drive connections between residents and caregivers. For the housing operator, a reduction in doctor visits goes right to the issue of cost, reducing transportation expense and helping curb the need for overtime. In terms of quality of life, residents who are able to receive consultations without having to leave their residences will find life less stressful and their housing experience more enjoyable.
These examples show a range of possible uses for telehealth, but it pays to remember the basics, too. Many in the field consider a simple phone call to be a prime example of telehealth among seniors. Sometimes a doctor’s visit is too cumbersome, or perhaps unnecessary when a simple answer is all that is needed. In such cases, a phone call often may suffice. Senior housing operators can help by putting in place communications portals that make it easy for residents to make these connections.