If you mention anything using the term ‘tech’ to many long-term care providers in charge of a nursing home facility and watch their reaction carefully you’ll notice they start to twitch a little. They will then probably go on to tell you why technology in their facility is unlikely to work; there’s too little funding, there is no time or resources available for staff retraining and some technologies, like wearable gadgets, would confuse their residents.
None of this is particularly reassuring to an outsider. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been under fire – and under scrutiny – for years, with many claiming that a lack of training and/or funding, coupled with resistance to change is impacting the level of care provided. And many people, including patients, their families and the likes of nursing home neglect lawyers in Atlanta and indeed across the US, will tell you that these shortfalls can lead to some rather distressing consequences.
Things are now, however, starting to change. In December of 2016 researchers from the University of Missouri published the first major study into the impact of the addition of certain technologies into a nursing home setting. And, in very basic terms, they found that an increase in IT sophistication in such a facility can indeed lead to a significant improvement in the level of patient care.
The appearance of a study led by some very distinguished academics – study leader Greg Alexander, is a professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing and currently taking advantage of a Fulbright Scholarship to study and help improve patient care in Australia – has led to some facilities finally agreeing to allocate more of their resources to the improvement of tech, not just in terms of administrative tasks but also in day to day patient care.
Examples of Tech in Nursing Homes
The immediate advancement that might spring to mind in terms of possible technological improvements in long term care facilities is that of an improved electronic medical records system. A substantial part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was $25 billion allotted for investments in health information technology, designed to improve safety, efficiency and quality in health care settings and reduce care disparities. However, as the bulk of that funding went to hospitals nursing homes missed out and it is hard to persuade financial administrators of such facilities that allocating some of their own resources to such improvements is really worthwhile.
As mentioned though, studies like the one at UM are changing minds. In discovering that there is software out there that can make a transition to full electronic records, versus meeting the bare minimum requirements for Medicare billing that many long-term care facilities stick to, easier and more affordable than previously thought is allowing more facilities to do so.
One important advance is easier access to other medical records associated with a resident. Most long-term residents have fairly complicated medical histories and have often been treated at a number of different facilities and by different medical professionals prior to their arrival at the nursing home. Improved electronic medical records means that none of the observances of, or treatments by, these different entities are missed, often leading to better patient care.
Now that technology in nursing homes is being better embraced it’s not just being adopted in the medical records office. Wearables are beginning to take center stage. In addition to security monitors some long-term care facilities are making use of Fitbit like wearables to track their residents basic activity levels and other metrics. Tablets are also coming into play as a way to encourage residents to enjoy simple pleasures like listening to their favorite music or Skyping with family and friends.
Ultimately though the growth this kind of tech in the long-term care industry will be driven by residents themselves. Baby boomers are now beginning to enter them and they are far more technologically clued in. They will expect to bring their iPad and smartphones with them and expect that things like efficient wi-fi will be provided to facilitate their continued use. And nursing homes will need to be ready to meet those demands in order to satisfy them. And the good news is that more and more of them are now open to developing the capacities to do so.