There’s no denying that technology has changed the home health care landscape. Thanks to technological innovations like wearable monitors, smartphone applications, and telehealth, patients can recover at home after an illness or surgery more safety than ever before. Not to mention technology allows older adults to age in place and remain in their home for longer than was ever possible in the past.
However, patients and professional caregivers aren’t the only ones who have benefited from technology. Family caregivers now have more resources than they did in the past, and the technological innovations that continue to reach the market are improving not only their ability to care for their loved ones effectively, but improving the overall delivery of home health care.
Research and Support
According to research by Pew, more than half of all family caregivers go online to find help and support in their caregiving journey, and nearly three-quarters of caregivers use the Internet to find information about their loved ones conditions and ideas for taking better care of them. Caring for an ill or disabled loved one can often lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, and being able to check in with others who are on the same journey — even if they are thousands of miles away and you have only met them on a discussion board or on social media — can be just the boost that someone needs to help them keep going.
And while the propensity for patients and their caregivers to visit “Dr. Google” before the see their actual physicians is often the source of jokes, many caregivers find that sources like the Mayo Clinic help them make sense of symptoms and behaviors and know which questions to ask when they do finally meet with a caregiver.
Monitoring and Communication
Often, family caregivers are balancing their responsibilities of caring for a loved one with full-time jobs, children, and other activities. Their full schedules don’t allow them to be in contact with their loves one 24 hours a day, but technological innovations allow them to check in throughout the day.
For example, some families opt to install sensor-based home monitoring systems that alert emergency contacts when something seems out of the ordinary, such as when the patient enters a certain room and doesn’t leave for an unusual amount of time, or there isn’t any motion at all for an extended period. GPS monitors are also useful in home care situations, particularly for patients with memory issues who may inadvertently wander from home.
Staying in communication with both the patient and other caregivers has also become easier thanks to technology. An agency may use home health care software that includes secure communication portals, for example, so that the patient and all of his or her caregivers can communicate securely via email, direct messaging, or notes. Again, when a family member cannot be present when the home health provider visits, a secure communication portal allows for a written log of the patients’ needs and the visit, and for a more open flow of communication.
Instead of waiting for a home health nurse to transcribe her paper-based notes at the end of a long day of visits, online software with patient portals allows family members to see notes in real time, and address any concerns or ask questions right away.
Benefits of Technology in Home Health
Clearly, technology offers family caregivers a number of advantages to make their jobs easier, and improve the health and well-being of their family members. However, the improvements to family communication and improved monitoring capabilities also benefits home health providers. Such advances include:
Improved patient satisfaction. Patient satisfaction is a major driver in all of health care, since reimbursement is driven at least in some part by provider scores. There is a direct correlation between high patient satisfaction scores and reduced readmissions, which is a major factor in provider reimbursements. Within the home health sphere, improved patient satisfaction also contributes to repeat business and stronger connections between providers and patients, which leads to ongoing business.
Improved productivity. Again, home health providers who can document their visits on the spot and use software to schedule their visits are more productive than those who are using paper-based tools. This increased productivity can reduce costs for home health agencies, and by extension, patients.
Perhaps the most important benefit of technology in home health, which benefits both patients and providers, is the improved outcomes. Using the monitoring technology to alert health care providers of potential issues before they escalate, keeping patients safe, and educating family members to be better advocates can all help improve outcomes, which in the end is the primary goal.