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LTC, home care prime for technology that reduces doctor visits, report says

September 4, 2012
by Pamela Tabar
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Technology will play crucial roles in facilitating the continuum of care and curbing healthcare spending, according to the August report, “Calibrated Care is Closer to Home: 2012 Aging and Health Technology,” published by Aging in Place Technology Watch. The report defines “calibrated care” as the combination of technology, care level and care location to reduce costs and to manage wellness instead of illness amid chronic diseases.

The primary function of calibrated care is to keep seniors from seeking access to healthcare through the most expensive door: the hospital emergency room. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says of the 136 million ER trips in 2009, one in four visits was for a patient age 65 or older, the report states. In addition, two-thirds of all ER visits were not true emergencies.

New technology integration models are pushing care locations far beyond the walls of the doctor’s office or the hospital ER. Similar to medical triage, a technology-integrated health process can sort seniors’ health needs by severity and guide him or her to the appropriate level of care. Those residents who don’t necessarily need to travel to a doctor’s office or hospital can be treated remotely at the long-term care facility, in the home or elsewhere. Those who can use online services or telehealth may be able to avoid a doctor’s visit altogether. Residents with chronic diseases can use online tools to self-monitor and to report health and wellness data to their physicians electronically.

Frustrations remain for telehealth, which has seen slow adoption despite several hospital system proof-of-concept pilots, the report finds. Payers are finally beginning to sort out reimbursement for tele-consultations, but large organizations continue to be the primary adopters.

One bright spot is the use of technology tools for disease management, where more health communications are taking place online, via email and in groups, the report notes. A handful of chronic diseases consume the bulk of healthcare spending. But, 50 percent of the senior population has at least two chronic diseases, the most common of which are pulmonary conditions and hypertension—two conditions that require regular monitoring and/or medication adjustments. If in-home monitoring technology can help seniors maintain their chronic conditions and avoid more face-to-face doctors’ visits, it’s a win-win, the report explains.

Medication management is another fertile field for home technology, especially since medication complications or mismanagement often lead to expensive hospital visits for seniors. In their living environment, seniors have a range of ”smart” products to assist in medication compliance, including pill reminders, dose dispensers, mobile phone apps and online resources.

Over the next eight years, care models will continue to move beyond the traditional spaces as the insurance industry increasingly views the home as a viable care location, the report predicts. Electronic health records, mobile applications and hand-held technology will bring software and services for better disease and wellness management to seniors’ hands, no matter where they are, the report states.

Read or download the report (PDF)