Rosemary Kennedy, Ph.D., RN, MBA, FAAN is Chief Health Informatics Officer at Connect America, the nationally recognized innovator in digital health and safety solutions that enable seniors to gracefully age in place. Dr. Kennedy recently spoke at the RISE Special Needs Plans (SNP) conference on the topic of Analyzing the Ramifications of the Pandemic and Exploring Takeaways from 2020 to explain how the pandemic clarified key takeaways for healthcare providers and for seniors with chronic disease.

For seniors with chronic disease—82% of seniors—the pandemic captured what medically advanced healthcare delivery looks like and how well seniors responded to this new delivery model.

Seniors with chronic diseases know that their health can take a downturn abruptly—seemingly without warning if they’re not monitored and the results analyzed. This scenario becomes even trickier for the 60% of seniors who have two or more chronic diseases to manage.

Where does a downturn happen? Often at home. “The home can be a ‘black box’ — and that’s where changes in health status occur. Identifying those changes early with remote patient monitoring (RPM) is crucial to prevent deterioration,” says Dr. Kennedy.

How Did Healthcare Delivery Change During the Pandemic?

“Digital health in the home increased 155% during the pandemic. The technology drove changes in care delivery models rather than the other way around,” says Dr. Kennedy. Perhaps the real surprise is that even high-risk seniors rose to the challenge of the new paradigm.

Owing to the make-or-break training ground of the pandemic, the healthcare delivery models that emerged support high-risk seniors who want to age in place. The good news is that the connective care solutions proven to work during this time are those that help all seniors “age in place at the highest level possible,” adds Dr. Kennedy.

Benefits to Seniors with Chronic Diseases

Turns out the 82% of seniors with a chronic disease like hypertension or diabetes know a thing or two about navigating crisis mode, something the rest of the country was just getting used to with the pandemic.

The good news is seniors could — and did — engage the available technology during the pandemic, from telehealth appointments on their laptops to medication monitoring systems and PERS (Personal Emergency Response Systems) — and they continue to do so as part of their daily care routine. Following are the connective care solutions that will continue to shape and drive optimal healthcare delivery for high-risk seniors:

Medication Monitoring

Roughly 50% of seniors don’t take their medication as prescribed. Whatever the reasons behind medication nonadherence, there are strategies and tools available for patients, providers, caregivers, and health plans to ensure that patients take their prescribed medications as directed by clinicians. Tech-enabled dispensers combined with visual, audio, and phone alerts lead to improved medication compliance.

Successfully implemented, these tools and strategies increase medication adherence and lower overall healthcare costs by reducing unnecessary doctor appointments, visits to the ER, and hospital admissions.

Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS)

A PERS device helps seniors by ensuring they get the help they need, when they need it, simply by pushing a button. This support was critical during COVID as seniors were isolated in their homes — and it continues to be a critical connective care device that saves lives.

What’s more, PERS devices are crucial to reducing unnecessary hospital visits. Calls to Connect America’s emergency responders during the height of the pandemic lockdown increased as responders fielded calls about falls, pain, breathing problems, cardiac-related symptoms, and bleeding. In parallel, patient satisfaction increased when seniors were reassured they could remain in their homes rather than schlep to the hospital. Overall, roughly 90 percent of the couple hundred thousand calls taken during the pandemic required non-emergency help.

It’s also worth noting that technologically, the PERS was, and remains, a welcome entrée to technology as it sidesteps the barriers to use that the internet can pose to some seniors, points out Dr. Kennedy.

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)

A robust RPM platform can capture blood pressure, glucose, and weight and is a critical solution for managing individuals with chronic conditions who have special needs. This may be the biggest lever to identify deterioration early for timely intervention to avoid unnecessary ED visits and hospitalizations. These benefits improve patient health, mitigate concerns about the “black box” situation of the home, and prevent unnecessary hospitalizations and emergency dispatches.

Patient outcomes and satisfaction also improved as seniors with chronic disease and even multiple chronic conditions requiring special needs plans (SNPs) experienced the positive impact of remote patient monitoring for chronic disease management. “Physiological data from our RPM solutions enabled early identification of problems, which led to quicker intervention, as every minute counts,” notes Dr. Kennedy.

Analytics and Insights

Analytical dashboards displaying PERS, RPM, and Medication Management solutions can deliver actionable insights, enabling care managers to quickly assess a subscriber’s status and adjust the care plan, ultimately improving quality, costs, and efficiency. In the end, this creates a more personalized healthcare experience that improves subscriber satisfaction.

The Benefits of Connect Care Solutions are Clearly Established

Following are three important takeaways from the pandemic that underscore how connective care solutions vastly improve healthcare outcomes:

1. Seniors experienced greater patient satisfaction by successfully managing their chronic disease from home.

Seniors spoke of feeling less fearful of living on their own or returning from the hospital or rehab. That goes for the families of patients, too. Dr. Kennedy offered the example of a patient returning home after a hip replacement: “Having the button to push gave her the opportunity to go to her house, and her family felt comfortable sending her home. Knowing there was somebody on the other end of the signal who could say, ‘What’s going on? We’re here to help.’ made all the difference. She knew she had a safety net of qualified responders available 24/7 who were very much a part of her care team along with clinicians and caregivers.”

2. Connective care solutions in the home can help increase safety for seniors who prefer aging in place.

Connective care is the safe and preferred choice for even high-risk seniors who want to age in place and age with dignity. Americans with five or more chronic conditions make up 12% of the population but account for 41% of total healthcare spending, points out Dr. Kennedy. Still, with connective care in the home, there is the possibility to increase satisfaction, improve safety and quality, and lower costs.

3. Improving patient outcomes now requires innovative, connective care technology solutions.

The data shows that many leading hospitals, physician groups, home healthcare providers, and other healthcare organizations, in coordination with various payer models, have been leveraging an integrated RPM platform for years to improve patient outcomes, reduce healthcare utilization costs, support disease management, reduce unnecessary hospitalizations, promote member satisfaction, and encourage self-management. So while the pandemic fueled the broader adoption of digital health in the home, Dr. Kennedy and her team were very encouraged by the data underscoring that connective care solutions will become increasingly ubiquitous in today’s value-based healthcare environment.