The unexpected challenges of 2020 have forced innovation and technology adoption upon the home health care industry, prompting progressive providers to move further into the future and for conservative ones to try something new.
Beginning to apply new technology to an agency’s operations can be a challenge, though, and throwing money at the problem often doesn’t help. Instead, providers looking to invest in tech need to have a clear goal in mind of what they want to accomplish, then work backwards to find the right solution.
“I think it starts with a strategy and a transformation objective,” Scott Roberts, the VP of personal care services and medical home care at AccentCare Inc., said at the Home Health Care New FUTURE conference last week. “What are you trying to do? What’s the agency trying to achieve? I hear from a lot of [tech] vendors … but we have to have a strategy and know what our ‘why’ is.”
The Dallas-based AccentCare is one of the largest home health providers in the country. Its overall footprint is currently comprised of nearly 180 locations across 17 states.
Being one of the biggest providers of home health care in the U.S. means that the AccentCare team gets pitched a lot of ideas from technology vendors. A variety of “cool” and “nifty” tools are out there, but that doesn’t matter unless they’re backed by a sense of purpose from the provider, Roberts said.
Telehealth and remote patient monitoring have massively increased among seniors since a public health emergency was declared in March. Agencies went from a couple handful of telehealth visits per week to thousands per day in some cases.
As in-person visits pick up again, much of that volume will go away — but it’s unlikely that virtual visits will ever return to pre-COVID-19 levels.
And it’s not just about delivering virtual care. It’s also about information, data and interoperability — making sure organizations that are more remote than ever maintain sound operations.
The application of technology
Adopting technology does not equal adaption, and a company committing itself to innovating does not mean that alone will solve its problems. Finding a problem and then creating or acquiring innovative ways to address it is a more thoughtful approach.
Take senior social isolation during COVID-19 as an example. It’s a massive problem that caught the attention of Addison, Texas-based Elara Caring — a home health provider that helps care for 60,000 patients and families each year.
In fact, one of the saddest things Elara’s team saw during the pandemic was the social isolation of its patients.
‘But we’re seeing that data can be used as a driver … to be proactive in treating those patients,” Dave Marchand, the chief information officer at Elara Caring, said at FUTURE. “Can we get early indicators that tell us something is about to go wrong? And can we do something about that? Can we intervene and keep these people healthier at home?”
Leveraging data — and good data practices — has helped mitigate the social isolation issue among Elara Caring’s patient population. While data can be tracked without advanced technology, it’s application can be much broader with the right tools.
“We’re seeing a lot of places where technology and data can help us drive innovation and communication,” Marchand said.
Additionally, it’s important for companies to establish what they’re looking for in technology before it is in front of them, Joemichael Sedillos, the senior IT manager at AccentCare, also said at FUTURE. Finding that “why” requires legwork before meaningful application of technology can take place.
Without it, an agency will end up paying for — or spending time on — technology that is not worthwhile for its business.
“Look at things from the first stage as far as what you need and what your goals are, … then use that as a tool to go and source your solutions and your software to say, ‘This is what we’re looking for,’” Sedillos said. “Then different technology vendors can come back to you and actually try to meet your business needs.”