More than ever before, patients are receiving health care at home. But providing these services has become increasingly complicated. The population is aging, and complex care needs are on the rise. As providers adapt, home care technology is stepping in to fill the gaps.
With the right technology, home care professionals can find and use health information more efficiently. They can improve team coordination to provide more responsive care. They can even communicate better with clients.
These solutions have a lot potential when it comes to caring for those with complex-care needs.
If you’re a nurse, care coordinator, or social worker who serves complex clients, your role in the technological adoption process is vital. You’ll help determine whether new initiatives succeed or not.
Unfortunately, front line providers are often said to reject change. This is an unfair characterization. After all, you know from firsthand experience that client needs are changing. You’re probably eager to find innovative ways of advancing the health and wellbeing of those you care for.
This post will look at the state of home care technology. We’ll tell you why now is the time to harness it, so that you make life better for your complex patients.
Shifting values, new challenges
Across Canada, health care is becoming more patient-centred. Providers now take independence and personal choice into account at every step of a patient’s health journey.
This trend is leading to a surge in demand for home care. Patients want to be in their own homes. But can caregivers and coordinators really provide the same high-quality care outside of facilities – without limiting client choices?
Treating people in home environments has its own unique challenges. Coordination doesn’t always run smoothly, especially when practitioners work in different locations.
Consider what could happen if a dietician doesn’t update a care coordinator quickly enough. A personal support worker might wind up working from an outdated care plan. As a result, she could feed a diabetic client too much sugar.
Many clients who live at home are alone at times. When this happens, how can a nurse watch for symptom distress? How can anyone be sure the client is taking medication properly?
Add complex care needs to the mix, and things get more complicated. Complex clients often require interdisciplinary care, which means collaboration.
Let’s look at some of the specific roles of those working on the front lines.
If you’re a care coordinator, you’re expected to obtain, interpret, and appropriately share all pertinent information related to a client. When it comes to care planning, you have to be completely confident in what you know. If you aren’t, you can’t make crucial decisions or help clients understand the words of specialists and caregivers.
If you’re a home care nurse, you work extremely hard to overcome communication barriers. You often provide care independently, without the direct support of other team members. You rely heavily on the accuracy of care plans, though you also have to know when to use your own observations and judgement.
If you’re a social worker, you may deal closely with a client’s family members. But it can be very difficult to know what’s happening in a home when you’re not around. Making use of the observations of other practitioners – which are often primarily physical – can be difficult.
In each of these cases, piecemeal approaches to collecting information make assessment and action difficult. But does it have to be this way with home care clients?
Coordinating with home care technology
Home care demand is increasing, which means case loads are heavy. Canadian governments are funding the sector to help clients. But the truth is, we’re in a transition period. Whatever role you fill, you’re probably being asked to do more with less.
Given these limitations, how can you provide consistent, high-quality care? While the kinks are being worked out of home care delivery models, how do you create real-world solutions?
Of course, coordination and communication are key. But strengthening these elements is easier said than done. Often, you’re away from clients, their families, and the other team members who provide their care.
Home care technology can you bring you all closer.
Because no matter how meticulous a care coordinator is about updating a care plan, there may still be confusion.
Even if a nurse is very careful about recording new client observations, it’s always possible that he’ll miss something.
And no matter how much a social worker cares, she may not have the time or resources to visit a client as often as she’d like.
From video-conferencing to health information-sharing platforms, digital solutions bridge these gaps. They allow those who coordinate services – as well as those who provide hands-on care – to establish real-time connections with one another, as well as with clients.
Telemedicine, systems that dispense self-care reminders for clients, remote patient monitoring devices – these tools have two major benefits. They make it easy to transfer information instantly, and they empower clients.
Aided by technology, skilled home care practitioners can achieve previously unimagined outcomes for clients – including those with complex needs.
Embracing innovation, bit by bit
There’s no doubt that being asked to use a new tool at work can be annoying. And for all of the amazing benefits innovation has given us, it can still get in our way. That said, digital solutions are particularly well suited to existing problems in home care.
The sector is growing rapidly. There are staffing shortages among home care agencies and other providers. An infusion of talented professionals would certainly be a good thing. But that’s not going to happen over night.
The truth is, connecting experienced nurses, care coordinators, and specialists who are already working in the field will go a long way toward improving care.
As a home care practitioner, the experience you have in challenging environments is priceless. It’s not a skills makeover you need. It’s the tools to do what you already do – in a more efficient way and on as larger scale.
Many are quick to state that front line workers are reluctant to embrace change. We don’t think that’s true. In our experience, those who work directly with home care clients are always looking for ways to provide better client outcomes.
A 2013 Nursing Times article explores the undeserved reputation nurses have for being unwilling to adopt technology. The article reminds us that an innovative solution doesn’t replace a nurse.
The same can be said of care coordinators, social workers, physiotherapists, and anyone else involved in treating patients at home.
New technology, new attitudes
Home care technology can help professionals tackle the challenges associated with at-home care – especially for complex patients.
Technology makes client information more accessible and easier to share. It improves communication across circles of care. But it can only improve client outcomes if it’s implemented consistently. That said, care providers should remember the value of experience, judgement, and empathy. No matter what changes, these traits will continue serve clients well.
Feature image courtesy of Magnus Hagdorn