For care providers and aging seniors in the information age, the future is now. While still with some challenges, adoption of virtual care as a standard in senior living and aging services has become a fully integrated and accepted practice to overcome obstacles in senior healthcare.
Virtual care techniques have been in use for over a decade and have moved beyond infancy stages. Several top providers of senior living care accept virtual care as an effective means to administer care. Furthermore, seniors and staff providing care recognize the value that technology-enabled solutions offer. If you are an aging senior, you are likely to experience some form of virtual care in your lifetime.
One of the more prevalent applications of virtual care is to overcome the challenges of staffing shortages and staff retention in care facilities. Recruiting, paying, and retaining necessary staff for senior care is one of the most significant issues senior care facilities face as a whole. Virtual care can be made available during staffing shortages, particularly during after-hours and weekend care, as well as on holidays. Provider oversight includes platforms using audio and video virtually connected to a bedside 24 hours a day. This alert system will provoke human intervention in a crisis. The virtual monitoring of senior residents can alert a skeleton crew of care providers tied to the virtual platform in the event of an emergency to intervene and provide complex or urgent care that requires a human touch.
Advancing positive outcomes is a hallmark of virtual care for seniors. Proper implementation and oversight of virtual care systems can avoid unnecessary hospitalization which reduces health care costs as well as stress on aging seniors, their caregivers, and family. Because healthcare is becoming prohibitively expensive, senior care providers view virtual care implementation as a high priority for health care reform. The 2018 Telehealth Industry Trends presentation cites research showing that “…after hours skilled nursing virtual care providers have successfully treated more than 80 percent of skilled nursing residents in place using virtual care technologies.” Health care provided on site helps residents avoid the expensive costs of hospitalization and the accompanying trauma associated with patient emergency hospital trips.
Virtual care is ideal for assisting the goals of the senior “aging in place” trend. Older adults are increasingly interested in technological applications to improve their aging experience and allow them to maintain healthy independence while remaining in their own home. In the event of an adverse health event, remote monitoring and wearable technologies can alert care providers or loved ones immediately. For seniors who have chronic conditions, this type of monitoring can bring peace of mind to know their health is being monitored 24 hours a day. By using an integrated virtual system, the senior also plays an active role in their well being. Home monitoring "smart speaker" service solutions for seniors are being aggressively developed and marketed by nontraditional healthcare companies like Amazon and Google.
Independent senior living will especially benefit through virtual care technologies in rural markets where seniors can often have trouble finding convenient care options. A major hurdle facing this trend is connectivity. Often times in rural environments internet connections are unreliable and sometimes nonexistent. Programs like Connect Americans Now are working to bridge the digital divide and provide reliable broadband connectivity for some 19.4 million Americans living in rural areas. Virtual systems can help monitor vital signs of health for difficult to reach senior populations as well as enhance social engagement to offset feelings of loneliness and isolation. These rural seniors benefit immensely by having ease of interaction with healthcare professionals and social contact with friends and loved ones. Overall, virtual care technologies can bring better health care and quality of life to rural seniors.
Virtual technology has a myriad of applications to benefit aging seniors. In senior living facilities it can augment staffing issues and still provide 24-hour monitoring and oversight. It can also make aging in place strategies for seniors much safer, particularly for those seniors in rural communities.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss care planning options for you or a loved one, please don’t hesitate to contact us. And if you are outside of our service area, please contact an experienced Elder Law Attorney (preferably one that is Board Certified in Elder Law) to assist you.
Jason A. Penrod is only the 20th attorney to be Board Certified as an Elder Law Expert by the Florida Bar and the National Elder Law Foundation. He is the founder of Family Elder Law (www.familyelderlaw.com) which has offices in Lakeland, Lake Wales, and Sebring, Florida.