Nov 20 2020

LeadingAge20: Improve Telehealth for Senior Care in 5 Steps

Simple and strategic adjustments can make access to lifesaving virtual care easier, conference panelists said.

Safety measures to keep older adults sheltered in place have been critical during COVID-19. The need for ongoing medical care, however, hasn’t stopped.

Telehealth in senior care residences was a growing topic of discussion last year at LeadingAge’s annual conference, but the practice is now essential, industry panelists at the organization’s 2020 virtual gathering said.

A federal relaxation of HIPAA rules and expanded Medicare and Medicaid coverage has made it simpler for seniors to get care from a distance and avoid high-risk spaces such as hospitals.

Even though many senior care providers were able to roll out some type of telehealth solution in recent months, the efforts must be positioned to grow and evolve.

“We already knew this was a great option,” said Judy Collett-Miller, director of innovation technology at Parker Health Group, a New Jersey aging services organization that offered limited telehealth services before the pandemic. “These circumstances forced decisions quicker.”

She offered insights in a panel with Brett Ortega, vice president of community technology at HumanGood, a California-based operator of 22 senior care communities. 

1. Consider a Variety of Tools to Connect Patients and Physicians

Housing services providers newly adapting to virtual care vary in their approach. Teams at Parker expanded fleets of telehealth carts in some buildings; others received iPad devices. HumanGood residents, on the other hand, were allowed to use their own tools.

In both cases, success hinged upon using easy-to-use platforms. Parker staff relied on Skype and Zoom in addition to its existing telehealth service, and HumanGood IT teams developed a purpose-built app for resident devices to connect with caregivers.

2. Educate Every Person Who Will Support or Receive Virtual Care

It’s a mistake to assume all clinical teams are tech savvy. Make it a priority, Collett-Miller said, to have a dedicated staffer for sharing technical (and procedural) details across the organization — and to provide a clear point of contact if problems arise.

“Find that physician and nurse ‘champion’ who gets it,” she said. “Even if they don’t have deep experience but they’re enthusiastic, they’re going to drive it.” Still, Ortega said, the core planning should involve an organization’s IT, clinical and legal teams.

TELEHEALTH’S LEGAL FUTURE: 3 post-pandemic predictions all providers should know.

3. Monitor and Thoroughly Clean All Mobile Telehealth Devices

As portable devices are shuttled throughout a residence to provide vital services, it’s important to keep tabs on all tools. HumanGood uses the Cisco Meraki solution to upload apps to hundreds of building-owned devices and track their whereabouts.

It’s just as important to clean the mobile devices between visits. “Build the cleaning process into the program from the beginning, not as an afterthought,” Ortega said, noting that his teams segregate where devices are used to avoid cross-contamination.

4. Leverage Health Data to Evolve Your Telehealth Program

As your virtual care program grows, it’s key to identify and document use patterns and areas of need. Two telehealth platforms used at Parker integrate with the organization’s electronic health record, which provides actionable data on visit types and outcomes. 

Protocol at Parker encourages caregivers to use virtual care for preventive and less-urgent medical visits. Said Collett-Miller: “People sometimes think telehealth is for acute episodes only, and it’s definitely not. You can get ahead of things so much earlier.” 

5. Collaborate and Strategize to Make Virtual Care a Way of Life

Historically, some senior care providers have been reluctant to pursue digital transformation, and a few LeadingAge attendees commented that they continue to face hurdles. Still, leaders must address infrastructure to support telehealth efforts.

“If you don’t have it, find a way to make it happen,” Ortega said, citing HumanGood’s decade-plus experience with video chat tools as pivotal practice. “If you’re in the IT department, ask questions of your clinical team, or ask colleagues in your community.” 

Keep this page bookmarked for articles from the event. Follow us on Twitter @HealthTechMag as well as the official organization account, @LeadingAge, and join the conversation using the hashtag #LeadingAge20.

FamVeld/Getty Images