Digital transformation: the key to improving senior care

Digital transformation

Personalized service is just a given today and that includes a rising demand for resident-centric care in senior care homes.  Embracing digital transformation is a major key to achieving that goal. 

However, it means embracing change not only on an operational level and how value is delivered, but also a culture change which requires challenging old policies and processes while advocating for experimentation – even if it ends in failure. 

A senior care organization may take on digital transformation for several reasons, but with the current state of the industry, it is most likely about survival; staff shortages, low reimbursement rates, increasing compliance requirements and low occupancy rates to name a few.  

So what is digital transformation anyway?

While the specifics of digital transformation vary from organization to organization to align with challenges and needs, there are some common pillars to help guide the change. They are:

  • Customer experience
  • Operational agility
  • Culture and leadership
  • Workforce enablement
  • Digital technology integration

Now how do these translate to a senior care organization? For staff, some of the benefits include:

  • Using workflow automation to free up nursing staff time from repetitive tasks 
  • Using remote monitoring so staff can provide care in all settings
  • Leveraging data for more holistic decision-making
  • Proactive and flexible scheduling for staff
  • Creating communication channels with other providers, families and caregivers
  • Attracting highly-qualified and digital-savvy staff, higher job satisfaction and retention in a highly competitive market 

For seniors, digital transformation provides:

  • A holistic view of their care 
  • Increased collaboration on decision-making with families and caregivers
  • Collaboration of care regardless of the provider, allowing seniors to better control and understand their health journey
  • Greater options for ensuring prevention, early diagnosis of life-threatening diseases and management of chronic conditions outside of traditional healthcare settings

Critical staffing shortages driving need for transformation

The healthcare industry, and more specifically the senior care segment, is facing dire workforce challenges. Compounded by the need to adhere to regulatory standards and professional guidelines, healthcare systems are understaffed, overtaxed, and frankly speaking, on the verge of burnt out.

Some alarming statistics include:

  • 100% staff turnover
  • 89% are facing severe or moderate staff shortages
  • 58% had to limit new admissions 

On the positive side, the pandemic is being credited as a catalyst for technology adoption and spending, as well as healthcare innovation. For example, 87% of seniors’ homes increased their technology budget in 2021.  Investing in digital tools like automation systems are one way to give both nursing and nonclinical staff more time to focus on residents. 

Tech trends in senior care

Staffing issues aren’t going to be resolved any time soon, but technology can give clinical and nonclinical staff more time in their day to focus on residents and patients. Examples include:

Automation: everything from documentation, operational and repetitive tasks like patient onboarding and outreach can be automated. The key success metrics for automation should be in keeping compliant, billing or a patient need. Collecting data just to collect it simply creates more work.

Because automation can be applied to a variety of systems, processes and policies and can benefit staff, residents, resident families, vendors and more, adopting automated systems can help attract and retain staff. 

Robots: mostly seen in dining rooms to help serve meals while staff can focus on less repetitive tasks while also spending more one on one time talking to residents during meals. This trend will also grow to include mobility assistance. 

Sensors: this will help increase remote monitoring capabilities in areas like fall detection, and cardiac and blood sugar monitoring. The dual benefit of sensors being that clinical staff have knowledge of what is happening with a resident without the resident feeling watched or coddled. 

When combined with predictive analytics, staff can be alerted when there is a change in movement or heart rate, making their ability to provide care proactively and not reactivly. 

The cost of doing nothing

The OECD Report Empowering the healthcare Worker: strategies to make the most of the digital revolution, says failure to leverage digital technologies to deliver the right information and knowledge at the right time is a missed opportunity to improve care. 

“For instance, 10% of patients are unnecessarily harmed during care, most frequently due to information and knowledge not reaching the right person at the right time. The health burden of this shortcoming in OECD countries is on par with that of diseases such as multiple sclerosis and some cancers. The direct financial impact is as high as 15% of hospital expenditure, and the broader economic loss is estimated in the trillions of dollars.”

Given this backdrop, the imperative for embracing innovation has never been clearer.

Until the industry is more mature, it will be a challenge for senior care providers to justify the costs. After all, adoption requires: 

  • Analyzing how work is viewed and performed to find standardized working practices
  • Breaking down silos to create cross-functional teams
  • Researching and selecting the right innovations, including reviewing integration with legacy systems 
  • Rethinking legal, regulatory and employee compensation frameworks
  • Recruiting, retaining and providing continuous training for digitally-savvy employees and those that struggle with technology
  • Ensuring future technological developments are researched and planned for
  • That budget is earmarked for initial implementation and future needs

Successful adoption should see technology enable problem-solving. It may not solve the problem itself, but it will enable teams to spend more time or use better data to find a solution.

The final word

The benefits of digital transformation in healthcare for everyone impacted far outweigh the seemingly complex road ahead for health are organizations. As with any technology innovation, it requires an iterative process where you use case studies to demonstrate the value of the technology in consultation with the people that actually use it. It requires a strong leader to champion the effort and painstaking review of existing processes and policies to determine what currently works and what doesn’t. 

This effort all leads to a common goal which is to create a healthcare system that:

  • Puts patients at the centre of care, empowering them to better understand and take more control of their health journey
  • Allows health organizations to improve care, be more efficient and reduce costs
  • Enhances the recruitment, loyalty and retention of staff in this highly competitive field
  • Reduces the financial burden 

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