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News Roundup: April 22, 2016

How Agencies Can Rise to the 5-Star Ratings Challenge

Published by Home Health Care News
By Tim Mullaney
April 22, 2016

We’re a five star agency.

In the past, home health professionals might have said this casually, to communicate that their agency was best in class. Today, being a five-star agency means something much more specific.

That’s because home health agencies now are being rated on a five-star scale by the federal government, as are skilled nursing facilities and other types of providers. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) calculates these ratings and posts them on the Web. The initial star ratings for home health—known officially as the Quality of Patient Care Star Ratings—were first made public on CMS’ Home Health Compare site in July 2015. They immediately became a business-critical concern for providers, as potential clients, referral sources, payor organizations, and other groups now are using the ratings to evaluate and choose among competing agencies.

While the star ratings have created some controversy and confusion, forward-thinking home health agencies have accepted that they need to fully understand the star ratings system and achieve top marks in order to gain or maintain an edge in the marketplace.

This white paper includes important information on:

The basics of five-star ratings
How ratings are calculated and what they communicate
Leveraging technology
And much more

Download your white paper today.

Home Health Care News

Published by Health Tech Needs Improvement, Seniors Say
By Amy Baxter
April 22, 2016

As telemedicine better enables care at home, it’s critical to understand what seniors think about emerging technology and how they use health and wellness capabilities from devices. From wearable monitors that track activity to sensors that can support a home health aide’s care plan, health and wellness technology is complementing .

But are older adults into the trend?

Not really, according to a recent technology report by Link-age Connect, a research and consultancy firm that conducts market research on the aging population 65+, and Aging in Place Technology Watch, a market research business that focuses on technologies and services that enable seniors and baby boomers to remain longer in their homes. The findings oppose a 2015 survey that found nearly two-thirds of seniors prefer to use self-care technology to independently manage their health.

The problem with health and wellness technology is that it’s not useful enough for seniors to want to use them, says Laurie Orlov, an industry analyst and founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch.

“[The findings] imply that trackers are not useful enough for seniors to use,” Orlov told Home Health Care News. “The wearables market is in the early stage, and hopefully it will get better. The most important thing about the tracker as seniors age is that there is some way to urge them to get up and move. Most trackers aren’t urging seniors to get up and move.”

Compared to just a few years ago, older adults are more connected. Most seniors in the survey were online and had access to the Internet, compared to 33% in 2011. However, for home health agencies to rely on some telemedicine capabilities, seniors actually need to use new technology as part of their lifestyle.

While many seniors realized the benefits of health and wellness technology, they noted several issues with using new devices and programs in the survey. Just over 40% of seniors said they owned a smartphone, though more than 65% did own a cellphone of some kind. Respondents who were older than 80 were the least likely to own a smartphone compared to younger baby boomers.

“I am quite old and new technological gadgets seem to be programmed by young people who grew up with computers and, consequently, assume that the user will know what to do in a confusing situation,” a respondent older than 85 said. “My friends often mention how frustrating this is.”

Compared to a previous survey in 2011, most responders were still unwilling to pay for health and wellness technologies, even if they recognized the benefits of their utilization. More than 60% of respondents said they weren’t willing pay any amount for these technologies on a monthly basis. However, more than 10% said they already do. The results reveal that if seniors are going to own health trackers, they will choose free applications that can track their data over paid services.

Health care have an opportunity to engage seniors in these technologies by providing training for older adults, either online or in-person, to teach them how to use wearable technology, smartphones, laptops and tablets. Orlov says the industry should also encourage the technology industry to embrace senior care.

“The senior care industry is not working hard enough to engage the tech industry, and the tech industry is fast to ignore the senior care industry,” Orlov said. “That’s a bad combination. You have to bring those two together.”

Seniors are not only looking to technology, but they are also depending on it

Published by Home Care Magazine
By Michael D. Radice
April 22, 2016

The dynamics surrounding the rapid escalation and adoption of technology by our growing senior population is becoming increasingly convincing of one major factor: Seniors are depending on technology. They perceive it as a significant contributor to their quality of life, their ability to self-manage health care and their ability to age in place. Just as the baby boomer generation rewrote the social landscape in the 1960s and 1970s, they will once again rewrite the rules on how health care in the 21st century needs to work. It will be done with advances in technology for health assessment and engagement.

Many observers are now realizing that seniors are actually good at and comfortable with using technology. After all, they as a generation invented it. One simply needs to look at the number of smartphones, Facebook pages, text messaging and in-home computers owned and used by seniors to find that, as a demographic, they do not shy away from technologies that improve their social lives, increase family and community engagement and help them manage their lives and the services they seek.

This embedded experience and power is now turning toward self-focused health care management. Perhaps more importantly, seniors are looking for health care services and caregiving organizations that embrace technology and, by doing so, embrace them as a vital aspect in the delivery of the services they choose. I predict a very short future for homecare services that are not technologically savvy. I will go on to forecast that a homecare service’s STAR ratings will be heavily influenced by their tech prowess.

Experience with technology in senior care has taught me two things. First, seniors want to easily and unobtrusively assess their current health status through monitoring. They want to know if they are on the road to recovery, stable or in poor health and headed for trouble. Second, they seek a unified resource that connects them easily, immediately and constantly with their caregivers, care plan, medication schedules, family, friends and local community and support services. And they want to do it all in one place, in one technology application.

I am quick to add that, in my discussions with seniors and professional researchers about this second point, there is an emerging dimension that has significant impact on one’s health, and that is social engagement and having a purpose. Perhaps as great as a senior’s physical health status is the impact of the fear of isolation and the loss of having a purpose. Studies are showing clearly that loneliness is a real killer. Factually, loneliness is more of a killer than obesity, alcohol abuse and air pollution. While we are well-versed in those, we are just beginning to learn that having an engaged life is critically important to a senior’s longevity and quality of life. Once again, note how technology—when provided correctly as a medium for engagement—can become a critical lifestyle differentiator and lifesaver for seniors.

The case for purpose serving as a powerful tool in preventive care is presented by Eric Kim and Victor Strecher of the University of Michigan and Carol Ryff of the University of Wisconsin in their jointly authored white paper, “Purpose in Life and Use of Preventative Health Care Services.” They make clear that, “Purpose in life has been linked with better health (mental and physical).”

Can there be a better case for using technology as a strident and utilitarian tool to augment a senior’s lifestyle with engagement via technology that minimizes the impact of loneliness and isolation? I chose the word “augment” because we understand that human-to-human engagement is the optimum solution, but that is not always possible due to distance. Technology provides the next-best level of engagement.

A lot of attention and investment is being given to health assessment technologies—the clinical aspects of blood pressure, heart rates, breathing, aches and pains, post-surgical healing and care, etc.—and rightly so. Here again, however, we need to broaden our adoption of technology to deal with the social dimension of health assessment. More pointedly, we need a mechanism beyond erratic e-mails and phone calls to monitor how our senior family members are doing each day. Technology is now available that provides for a simple, one-touch, “I’m OK” button on a tablet that lets every caregiving stakeholder know that things are fine and that also reports what direction a senior’s health is headed. Self-managed health care often needs the proactive contributions of a professional’s intervention. Assessments, while beneficial, only become meaningful when someone—a caregiver or the senior—can take action that avoids a worsening condition or a more critical trauma. Technology can be that conduit.

My experience with social engagement platforms—those that enable seniors to become part of an active learning and social community—has proven to be a rewarding endeavor. I see senior lives transformed with a passion for “joining that next session.” I often hear from seniors, “One click, and I am with my friends, engaged and participating!”

It is important to recognize that we are rapidly moving into an age where traditional health care services and care payment models are being restructured to keep patients out of hospitals, reduce readmissions and lessen the number of visits to ERs. This new model can be successful only when a bridge to the patient and engagement/assessment has been facilitated by the adoption of advanced technology—jointly by the caregiver and recipient. To state it another way, traditional brick-and-mortar care facilities will not be able to meet the demand the senior population will place on them. We also need to understand that these facilities have an ever-lessening incentive to serve the elderly ill in the numbers seniors are only now beginning to represent. The new hospital room, nursing facility and retirement residence are all being defined by the desire of seniors—and by law—as the home. It will be technology that creates the virtual health care services that facilitate this future.

The good news is that technology is delivering the solution. Advances in connectivity, video telemedicine, care plan simulators, remote patient monitoring, recovery therapies and even advances in therapies for the cognitively impaired are readily at hand. Technologies that take into account vision issues and hearing loss are being woven into these solutions. Even research work with humanoid health care companion robotics harkens as a new era for companionship, engagement and assessment.

It is my belief that we are now in that new era where we need to embrace technology as caregivers and have the confidence that seniors can and will use it. They know—and their families know—that their lives depend on it.

Growing trend towards care in the home

Published by News Medical
April 22, 2016

Caring in the home is where an elderly or disabled individual chooses to stay at home and either care for themselves, or be cared for by a professional home-care provider. Caring in the home consists of self-support, professional care and assistance, and a home that is equipped to sustain living in the home (e.g. a nursing bed to facilitate proper care).

The growing trend towards care at home
With today’s National Health Service bursting at the seams and UK authorities keen to move on as many so-called ‘bed-blockers’ as possible, the demand for elderly and disabled care outside of the NHS is well on the rise. However, with care home fees averaging £740/week in UK nursing homes, professionally provided care is becoming less and less attractive for the majority of families seeking care for an elderly or disabled relative.

So, with the NHS seeking to find alternative care for elderly patients, and care home fees proving to be unaffordable for many, the increase in home care has seen a significant boost in popularity. On top of this, the UK Government is a huge advocate of independent living and sees this push as a vital part to easing our over-crowded hospitals.

The two types of care in the home
There are two types of care at home: domiciliary care and independent living.

Domiciliary Care

Domiciliary care is used where a disabled or elderly person is unable to sustain living at home without significant carer support. A carer visits the person in their own home and helps with any daily activities the person cannot safely manage on their own. Examples include: getting dressed; cleaning around the house; and going to the toilet. This type of care is a paid service provided by a professional company. There are over 4000 domiciliary-care/home-care providers in the UK regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

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Independent Living

Living independently is where an elderly or disabled person lives alone in their home which is adapted to meet their requirements. To live independently, the person must be able to perform basic functions by themselves (e.g. access the toilet, eat and drink, and move around the home with the support of assistive equipment). A vital part of living independently is the reliance on family and friends to be there in the case of emergency or just for support now and again. There are three key components to independent living: support from family and friends; access to professional assistance; and a suitable and properly equipped home.

Support to stay at home
When a person gets older or their condition deteriorates, it is usually in the interest of both themselves and their family and friends to stay at home for as long as possible. There are many charities, associations and support groups out there who will provide guidance and help for those seeking to keep themselves, or a relative in their care, at home. The web has provided a platform for organisations like these to display information that is readily available and easily accessible to everyone. Online communities have been set up to provide an area where people can ask questions, read advice from professionals and share their thoughts with people in a similar situation.