The world’s older population continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. Today, 8.5 percent of people worldwide (617 million) are 65 and older. And, this percentage is projected to jump to nearly 17 percent of the world’s population by 2050 (1.6 billion). Additionally, America’s 65-and-over population is projected to nearly double over the next three decades, from 48 million to 88 million by 2050.
Challenges and Opportunities in Home Care
With this population boom comes many challenges and opportunities. An overwhelming 90%+ of seniors say they wish to age at home. As shared by Olga Jarrin, assistant professor at the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research and Rutgers School of Nursing and author of a study on the future of home care, “Across people’s lifespans, home care exemplifies the intersection between seeking the best outcomes at the lowest cost and what matters to patients and families.”
Home care presents an opportunity for the rapidly aging population to live life on their terms, but also for better health management and cost reduction. Home care can reduce hospital readmissions and offer proactive services to minimize or delay more costly care.
Policymakers and providers now emphasize the importance of social determinants of health. These are the social, economic and environmental factors that affect health. For example, a person needs adequate nutrition to stay healthy, especially as they get older. Another example is safe housing. Furthermore, transportation allows a person to get to doctor’s appointments, be socially engaged, and get food and supplies. In order for medical care to succeed, we must address these social determinants. Home care can do just that. However, we need some disruption to home care, and healthcare more broadly, to make that happen.
Home Care Disruption: What’s Needed?
1. Develop staff and leaders in home care. Raise the level of professionalism and support home care workers.
Along with growing demand for home care, there is a growing home care workforce shortage. From a nursing perspective, this is due in part to hospital-centric curriculum. For home care aides, a strong labor market has created many attractive, and often higher-paying, job options. Home care work is not easy, though it can be highly rewarding. The home care industry needs to focus on attracting workers with active, quality recruiting. Workers want to know they’ll be supported and valued. Most get into home care work due to the rewards of caregiving. Therefore, recruiting needs to focus on what makes this work special.
However, most importantly, workers need to be supported and developed. Home care needs strong leaders who innovate. It needs problem solvers. Without supporting and developing the caregivers, home care cannot survive.
Just take a look at this message from EasyLiving’s CEO, about caregivers being the essential element in our mission. Alex grew up in a family deeply involved in healthcare and eldercare, and it has been his passion to apply innovative solutions to make this field better. When he started managing the company, he immediately applied disruptive principles, doing things like paying staff for training time and requiring use of technology. One of his early orders of business was developing staff orientation, training, and supervision. He knew asking clients AND caregivers for direct feedback early on in cases would be vital.
2. Coordinate care and include home care in healthcare to address social determinants, reduce readmissions, and save costs.
Evidence clearly shows how much social determinants affect health outcomes. But, until now, non-medical home care has typically been “left out” of the fragmented healthcare system. For example, hospital discharge plans would usually include Medicare home health for nursing or PT, medical equipment and follow up appointments. Yet, the senior returning home might have no way to get prescriptions immediately or restock their fridge. He might not have a way to get to those follow-up appointments.
As hospitals, Medicare home care, and especially Medicare and insurers, have begun addressing high hospital readmission rates, this problem has become clear. Moving forward, we should see better coordination to focus on these vital needs. Electronic medical records can ease coordination for more holistic solutions. With this also comes an opportunity to remove barriers to home care access.
3. Use evidence-based care plans/solutions and measure results.
As non-medical home care becomes more integrated with healthcare, it also needs to become more measurable. Medicare and healthcare providers have shifted focus to evidence-based solutions. Home care can do so also…and must.
For example, at EasyLiving we build custom care plans for our clients. We assess them to build this care plan to address their needs. Then, we write it so that we can measure progress. You can read more about creating the perfect care plan here. Our care managers set specific goals (with the clients) and then assess the outcomes as part of care coordination. This enables us to see what’s working and adjust as needed. And, home care needs to do this if we want to be a vital part of the healthcare system. This is the language of medical providers that we need to speak.
4. Combine technology with the human touch.
Technology will never replace humans completely in home care. However, it can make us more efficient. Clearly, our home care worker shortage means we need to be highly efficient. We can now better monitor elders’ health and wellbeing using technology. This data can help direct care needs and mitigate crises. It can also help us measure our outcomes and monitor progress.
We need to continue developing aging-in-place technology. And, most importantly, we need to measure what works and ensure elders get access. Our care managers take a holistic solutions approach. This means both human-powered and tech-powered recommendations. And, it also means helping clients access and use the tech, so that it actually works for them. To look into the future of aging innovation, check out what Switzerland and Japan are doing.
As a home care company, we’re able to do so much more now, thanks to technology. This results in improved quality and keeping costs down. All of which allows us to better support our staff and focus on their development.
For example, our software gives us a bird’s eye view of what is happening with our clients and caregivers. We can quickly spot needs and problems. It helps us in the matching process and therefore, in recruiting more effectively. Caregivers easily get the information they need, so they’re prepared. Something as simple as immediate access to directions and maps to clients’ homes has reduced tardiness. And, of course, having the complete care plan right at their fingertips gives caregivers what they need to do the job well.
Online tools for recruiting and hiring also help us counterbalance the workforce shortage issue. Additionally, online training makes it so much easier for our home care staff to access the tools they need.