Editor’s note: This Forecast article is part two of a five-part series assimilating some of the latest research and industry news about assisted living in the year(s) to come as we face the challenges of rising acuity, staff training and medication management, among others. They are organized around the business of assisted living, the medicine of assisted living and the people of assisted living (both caregivers and residents).
For the past few decades, investors and community executives have focused heavily on building upon assisted living’s allure as a hospitality haven where seniors with means could comfortably transition. But with rising acuity, more chronically ill residents moving in and a reformed healthcare system that has placed a premium on information to drive decisions, data has taken on an unprecedented importance in transitional care.
At the heart of it all is the Electronic Health Record (EHR). By necessity, skilled nursing facilities have outpaced all long-term care settings in EHR adoption. Assisted living, meanwhile, continues to lag, presumably because there was no clear business case for doing so until recently.
In 2017, as many as 75% of assisted living communities had yet to implement their own Electronic Health Records systems, according to the National Study of Long-Term Care Providers. But experts predict 2019 will see a record number of EHR implementations in the non-skilled post-acute sector.
In its late 2018 white paper, Cantata Health made this technology prediction: “Data-driven decision making will increase in importance In 2019. By analyzing the data trends provided by your Electronic Health Record and financial management software, facility administrators will be able to make more informed decisions on how to keep the bed counts up, care coordination with other providers, staff turnover, infection control, and more, based on data instead of intuition.”
The firm notes that expected improvements in EHR user interfaces will go far in making the technology “more interoperable, streamlined and intuitive,” which in turn could decrease what it calls “tech-induced burnout.” Easier interfaces can be especially helpful in choosing a preferred pharmacy.
While data-driven healthcare is here to stay, it brings inherent risk. Every sector of healthcare, including assisted living, will continue investing in cybersecurity infrastructure and related technology, especially as assisted living communities and their vendors implement online resident portals.
In late 2018, the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM) and the Health Management Academy (HMA) surveyed IT executives from nearly 40 healthcare systems to get a bead on the long-term care industry’s progress, according to LeadingAge. Thanks to the recent wave of server breaches, phishing and ransomware attacks, fewer than 20% of IT executives reported having a high degree of confidence in their IT recovery and business continuity plans. Consequently, nearly 90% of executives said they will be investing significantly more in cybersecurity measures this year.
In early January 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services painted an ominous picture of the year to come in its four-volume white paper, “Health Industry Cybersecurity Practices: Managing Threats and Protecting Patients.”
The five major threats in the coming year, according to HHS:
Among the most recommended best practices for assisted living providers are email protection systems and checks on the cyber safety of medical devices.
When Ziegler, a large private investment bank with a healthcare specialty, polled key IT executives in December 2018, it captured a birds-eye view of the coming priorities of CFOs and other key executives.
In a survey of top IT executives conducted in late 2018, investment banker Ziegler found the majority planning to build out communication and information technology networks following massive projects the year before which were designed to build powerful infrastructures to support high-speed internet and wireless connectivity. Connectivity will be increasingly important as resident adoption of technologies such as online medication management increases. Other popular investment targets in 2019 will include telehealth, Electronic Medical Records (EMR) systems and staff scheduling systems.
The survey also found that most of the data being mined in long-term care – including assisted living – will find a home in on-premises data centers (20 percent) or hybrid/private cloud (60 percent) in the next three years, Leading Age reported.
Senior living providers outside the inner sanctum of big data companies got to be virtual flies on the wall after reading LeadingAge’s January 2019 report, “What Does Big Tech Want from Your Residents?”
The report summarized major findings from a Senior Housing News article the months before, which showed how efforts by big tech companies “made move after move to capture the smart tech senior dollar. Their respective yet similar strategies revolve around creating and delivering smart technology that is designed specifically for seniors, and expanding their brands to reach into the massive health care space, much of which impacts older adults.”
The article warned senior living operators that in 2019 and beyond, they will be “bombarded with opportunities to partner with and purchase from tech giants. To succeed, they must understand both the goals of these companies and what their residents most need from them.”
Technology is changing just about every aspect of senior living (as well as every aspect of life). ValueMed offers technology that supports assisted living staff and streamlines medication management, such as ViewMasteRx, DischargeRx, and no-cost EZ-MAR that combines electronic ordering and eMAR functions. What’s next in Forecast? Be sure to keep an eye out for Part 3: Growth, Construction and Partnerships as we dive into the macro growth issues shaping the industry.