Improving home care for elderly Massachusetts senior citizens has become passion of mine, and recently I was asked to address the New England Home Care Conference in Newton, MA, on how to use web technology to improve the quality of senior care, or eldercare. So I ask the room a seemingly-obvious question: “How many of you registered for this online?” Dozens of hands went up among attendees of the largest home care conference in New England, which was the first partnership of the state home care associations in the region. I continued with more obvious questions: How many made your travel reservations online? Dozens. How many shop, pay bills, check kids’ school schedules? Dozens, dozens, dozens -- in each case, nearly everyone.
Then came the punch line.
“All of you use the internet to make your daily lives easier. How many of you provide that same convenience to your client families?” Not a hand was raised. This is where I always get animated. We are facing a national demographic crisis, and we all know that major changes are coming in Medicare and care for elderly seniors at home. But home care lags behind most other industries in use of the internet to improve service quality. We can improve the quality of care and reduce its cost if we get better information to clients faster. We need online daily reports, photos, schedule updates, and related features for remote family members. We need what we call ‘home care for the 21st Century.’
To be clear, I am not a software salesman. I own a home care agency, and I developed an online system for our own use, which led to my invitation to address the industry conference. The fact that I’m not selling anything lends credibility. Agencies know that I deal with the same issues they do, and I have no benefit if they believe me or not. But there’s no excuse for our industry to lag. Yes we have HIPAA regulations, but banks have pretty strict security and privacy regulations, and they deliver vast service improvements via the web.
Improved elderly home health care is far more important that simple convenience. At present, unless you are standing at the kitchen table to read the log book home health aides keep at the house, you don’t know what’s going on. Whether you’re across town or across the country, you just can’t always be there. But if we put the same report in a secure, online family portal, you can read and respond from anywhere. It’s not always dramatic events like a fall that require response – daily changes in status can be early indicators that intervention would help. Moderate changes in appetite or in sleep patterns may indicate an illness that can be addressed and cured more easily, at lower cost, if addressed earlier. In fact, we recently met again with Liddy Manson, CEO of BeClose, which helps detect just such changes without a person having to be on site - again, offering a chance to improve client health and quality of care while simultaneously reducing its cost. I’ll blog about our conversation with Liddy next week.
Care improves and cost declines by getting information where it needs to be, faster. Better information improves quality and price any process in any industry. It certainly improves home care for the elderly.
And it’s not just the remote caregivers – typically, adult children of the client – who benefit. One of the surprising outcomes we discovered from using our system was that the on-site caregivers improved their care. To be honest, I can claim no strategic vision for this. It just happened. But caregiving is a lonely job, and most caregivers don’t get a lot of feedback. Suddenly with online reports, people are reading what you’re doing each day. It’s not uncommon for them to call and ask a question or follow up. They’re interested! They always were, but now they are also informed about what’s going on. So it’s not a matter of having someone look over your shoulder; it’s just easier to stay engaged in your job if feel as though you’re part of a team.
And the convenience shouldn’t be minimized. If you’re the main caregiver for your parents, you may be keeping 4-8 siblings and other family up to date. Just that can be exhausting. But if our industry would adapt web technologies, they can all check the updates themselves and you could be freed from a lot of stress. And being able to check the schedule, or request a change, check your bill – without getting on the phone just reduces stress in the lives of people who face a lot of it.
And the response? It was pretty good. Two years ago, other agencies looked at me as if I had two heads when I said this stuff. Now at least they are curious and interested. But we’re still inexcusably far behind the rest of the industries in this country. We’ll get there – we have to!