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Virtual Health and Emerging Technologies Support Aging in Place

Editor’s Note: Sg2 Director Lauren Seno and Sg2 Vice President Henry Soch contributed to this special Aging in Place edition of the Virtual Health Newsletter.

As the Medicare-qualified population continues to grow steadily in the next several decades, meeting its health needs will demand innovative thinking. The urgency of this mandate has only accelerated as this population remains fitter and more active later in life than in previous generations.

Every 2 days in the US, 20,000 people turn age 65. The fastest-growing segment of the population is people aged 85 or older. By 2050, there will be 2 billion people worldwide over age 60, up from 900 million in 2015.

As a result of these dynamics, expectations have shifted as to when, or whether, this population should migrate to leisure care facilities. With more individuals staying in their own home well into their later years, providers must rethink the boundaries of health care, adopt new technologies and embrace comprehensive programs to deliver aging-friendly care. While virtual health technologies, such as video for in-home visits, remote patient monitoring devices, wearables and mHealth apps, play an important role, organizations also should position themselves to pursue additional modalities and approaches.

Large technology firms rapidly entering the health care space have also identified this as an area of opportunity. Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google continue to make significant investments in “smart home” technologies. These sensor-based tools allow providers to monitor individuals’ activities and health continuously. Newer entrants to the market are going a step further. CarePredict offers a solution that uses machine learning, wearables and kinematics to recognize changes in behavior. Early identification of small, seemingly innocuous changes can alert caregivers to warning signs and predict episodes ranging from depression to falls to urinary tract infections.

What’s Old Is New Again

To truly impact individuals’ ability to age in place, however, health systems must consider how they will influence social determinants of health related to the aging population. This approach requires programs that interlink services offering access to affordable housing, healthful food, checkups, rehabilitation services, home health, transportation and other services that support individuals in maintaining their independence.

One example is the On Lok model, which has been available for decades but is experiencing a renaissance, having grown nearly 40% in the past 3 years. The program connects patients to an interdisciplinary health care team that provides primary care services, oversees specialist services and, ultimately, prevents or quickly addresses any health-related issues that arise. On Lok has not only produced improved health outcomes but also delivered 15% lower costs than traditional Medicare.

CMS and some commercial payers, such as Anthem, are recognizing such comprehensive programs as delivering significant value. CMS is developing a pilot model that will reimburse health care organizations for providing these types of services. While such reimbursement is still resisted by many health insurers, the message is clear: health care delivery must extend outside the hospital campus and into the homes and communities of patients. Nowhere is this more applicable than to aging populations.

The Other Side of the Coin

Aging in place is not without its downside. For many, increased longevity has resulted in increased loneliness. Research has shown that loneliness can increase mortality rates by 50% and costs Medicare $6.7 billion annually, primarily in spending on nursing facility placement and hospitalization.

Technology may help solve this issue as well. Early research has shown that digital assistants such as Alexa and Google Home provide individuals with a sense of companionship and decrease feelings of loneliness. Additionally, “social robots” such as ElliQ also may improve patient well-being. This sophisticated technology uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing to discern the preferences of individuals and thereby choose the right time to interact with patients toward improving care plan adherence.

While these emerging technologies can support aging populations by themselves, they are most impactful as one aspect of a comprehensive program addressing post-acute care, chronic care management and social determinants of health. Launching this type of approach requires health systems to establish new offerings, investments and partnerships. For those that successfully accomplish this goal, though, the rewards are improved care for aging populations, lower readmission rates and a stronger competitive position for the health system.

As your organization seeks to establish programs that support aging populations:

  • Evaluate technology solutions with all patient populations in mind. Execution may require in-depth research of older populations in particular, as technologies may not be considered intuitive or appealing by those experiencing physical decline.
  • Reconsider your care delivery strategy. The 1-to-1, in-person, on-site method of delivering care is becoming unsustainable. Organizations must explore alternate care delivery methods to accommodate the needs of a growing “well-derly” population.
  • Develop education and incentives for both physicians and patients to adopt these strategies. Clinicians must be presented with incentives—and appropriate training—to prioritize prevention. Similarly, patients must be engaged via customization and messaging focused on the initiatives’ value to quality of life.

Accomplishing these strategies can be challenging. Sg2 offers market-leading consulting services to support you in rethinking your Future System of CARE, thus enabling patients at all points along their health journey.

Questions or Comments?
Have specific questions or want to learn more about how Sg2 can support your virtual health initiatives? Contact me at 847.779.5449 or cpagano@sg2.com.

 

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