Until recent years, “technology” and “long-term care” weren't often used in the same sentence. That may be a slight exaggeration, but one would be hard-pressed to argue against the perception that the LTC industry is somewhat of a late adaptor of technological advancements. However, provider demand, vendor interest and a growing number of tech-savvy seniors are changing all that.
“Technologies that were a vision five years ago are no longer just visions or prototypes—they are real products on the market that service providers and seniors can integrate,” says Majd Alwan, PhD, vice president, Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST), affiliated with LeadingAge (formerly the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging). In the following pages, Dr. Alwan, a leading expert in the field of emerging technologies for the senior care market, shares his thoughts on the top technology innovations in long-term care that have emerged to broader use over the past decade.
Where does your organization stand when it comes to implementing the latest managerial, operational and resident care technology solutions?
INTUITIVE COMPUTER INTERFACES
Touchscreens and graphic user-interfaces have made computer technologies accessible to frontline staff as well as seniors, who may be less comfortable working with a mouse and/or keyboard. “They have enabled electronic documentation services by CNAs, whether these screens are wall mounted or part of a tablet or other handheld device,” says Alwan. “This also applies to voice data entry, to a lesser extent. These interfaces also enable a number of social connectedness and entertainment applications for seniors, including email, social networking, Internet browsing as well as brain and physical fitness technologies.
“This innovation has made computing devices accessible not only to frontline staff that might not have the same computer competencies and skills as administrators and RNs but to older adults who are even less familiar with computer technologies,” says Alwan.
WIRELESS DATA COMMUNICATION/NETWORKS
The development and accessibility of wireless data communication/networks has spurred mobile computing and point-of-care systems. It has empowered staff and seniors who use mobile Internet devices. “The advent of this technology has allowed us to access data and to perform mobile computing, whether it's with laptops, tablets, handheld devices, even smartphones,” says Alwan. “It has severed the tether—allowing us to carry the devices, roam around and have access to data from anywhere within a facility or—with the advent of 3G and 4G networks—not only within the facility but anywhere you have similar wireless coverage.”
ELECTRONIC HEALTH RECORD (EHR) SYSTEMS
EHRs provide complete information about residents—their conditions, allergies, medications—as well as their needs and preferences. These systems-when coupled with others, like e-prescribing, physician electronic order entry systems, clinical decision support systems and electronic medication administration systems—can reduce medical errors, says Alwan.
“EHR and EMR (Electronic Medical Records) are often used interchangeably,” says Alwan. “EMR refers to all interactions a provider has had with a patient—specifically to an organization or specific to a care facility. When people started talking about the interoperability and the exchange of health information, that term migrated to the definition of EHR as a record of the interactions that any provider had with that individual.”
ELECTRONIC RECORDS SHARING
Interoperability standards that enable LTC providers to electronically share the health records of their residents with hospitals and physicians makes the previous innovation a system that can exchange the information beyond the walls of the facility. “This is extremely important for the elderly, particularly around transitions of care, which occur more frequently in the population served by long-term care providers compared to other populations,” says Alwan. “The interoperability standards are starting to be implemented by the EHR vendors that work in long-term and post-acute care. Many of them plan to have their records certified by one of the national interoperability certification commissions later this year.”
The American Telemedicine Association has historically considered telemedicine and telehealth to be interchangeable terms, encompassing a wide definition of remote healthcare. “Patient consultations via videoconferencing, transmission of still images, e-health including patient portals, remote monitoring of vital signs, continuing medical education, consumer-focused wireless applications and nursing call centers—among other applications—are all considered part of telemedicine and telehealth,” states the association on its website (www.americantelemed.org).