With escalating care costs and growing healthcare worker shortages, there has been a significant movement toward aging in place. According to the U.S. News & World Report, the overwhelming majority (93%) of adults over the age of 55 agree that aging in place – “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely and independently, regardless of age, income, or ability level,” – is an important goal for them.

As a result, we have seen a digital health revolution, that has transformed the way we prevent, treat and manage health conditions. Many of these new technologies are helping to address our aging population’s needs, making it easier for them to age safely in their homes and receive timely care when needed.

The High Costs of Falls

As seniors age in place, they can face many challenges, some of which include loneliness and isolation, problems with medication adherence, issues getting to doctor appointments, difficulties accessing healthy foods, and of course — falls.

Falls among seniors are a serious and often overlooked issue that is common in homes across America. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), one in every four Americans over the age of 65 falls each year. As the leading cause of death and the most common cause of trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults, falls can have serious implications, including injuries, disabilities and even death.

The numbers are staggering. Each year falls result in more than 3 million injuries treated in emergency departments, including 800,000-plus hospitalizations. Falls and their long-term effects have an enormous burden on the U.S. healthcare system. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the average cost of a fall is $30,000. Nearly $50 billion a year is spent on medical expenses related to non-fatal fall injuries and $754 million on fatal falls. These numbers are expected to rise to $101 billion by 2030 as the senior population continues to grow.

Beyond the significant costs to the healthcare system, a fall can also greatly reduce a senior’s quality of life. A growing number of seniors fear falling, and they make daily decisions that limit their activities and social engagements, which can lead to further physical decline, social isolation, and depression.

Fall Prevention Strategies

While some may believe falls are a natural progression of the aging process, they certainly don’t have to be. Many falls are preventable, and the NCOA recommends tips to help seniors and their caregivers prevent them, such as exercises to build an individual’s balance, strength, and flexibility; understanding medication side effects that could increase the risk of falling; and scouring the home regularly to remove tripping hazards.

Other fall prevention strategies include wearable connective health technologies such as personal emergency response systems (PERS), with fall detection that provides continuous and non-intrusive monitoring for aging and at-risk populations. These two-way communication devices include detailed data and analytics on individual health and wellness—to enable better decision-making with fewer adverse events. The data collected from these compact connected devices can provide detailed information about mobility, activity, and steps. Thanks to advanced new features, when paired with geofencing capabilities, caregivers can be notified when a subscriber leaves and returns safely home.

For payers and healthcare organizations looking to enhance their fall prevention strategies, these wearable devices can be integrated with a comprehensive fall prevention program that includes early risk identification, predictive analytics, enhanced engagement, education, and support.

For example, through the powerful combination of connective health devices, AI-virtual engagement, predictive analytics, and support services healthcare organizations and their care teams can better identify individuals at risk of a fall and deliver interventions to help minimize the potential of injuries, ED visits, or hospitalizations.

These solutions provide care teams with greater insights into an individual’s health and wellness while they are at home in their natural environment. In addition, caregivers and those in a person’s care circle can be alerted to potential risks, urgent conditions, and emergencies, enabling a quicker response.

With these preventative measures in place, it is possible to identify warning signs much earlier and prevent worsening outcomes. For example, if a senior typically takes 1,000 steps per day and suddenly this number drops to 200 steps, this will trigger an alert and response or intervention from the care team. This type of early detection helps reduce emergencies before they happen and prevent potential adverse outcomes such as falls, ED visits or hospitalizations.

Benefits of Connective Health Solutions for Payers and Providers

These solutions offer payers and providers real-time insights into an individual or population’s health. Decisions can be made, and treatment can be administered often without requiring an ED visit or hospitalization.

For example, in an IRB-approved study of over 370 randomized individuals, designed to assess the impact of PERS with CareSage analytics on hospital readmission rates and emergency department visits, demonstrated significant reductions in overall healthcare utilization. The study showed a 68% decrease in 90-day readmissions, a 53% decrease in 180-day readmissions, a 49% decrease in 180-day EMS encounters, and a 31% decrease in hospitalization costs. This has a meaningful impact on the clinical side of the equation and the bottom line by reducing the number of costly readmissions and visits to the emergency room.

Continuous Touchpoints

As we all know, the more touchpoints there are with a patient or member, the greater the engagement and insights. Technologies, such as an AI-enabled virtual assistant, can help increase patient and member engagement while providing support with enrollment and the onboarding process of remote care programs such as remote patient monitoring (RPM) or chronic care management (CCM). This technology can send alerts to patients reminding them to take their vitals, deliver health assessments and surveys, offer encouragement and support, and more.

In fact, engagement tools, such as AI virtual health assistants, have been shown to help increase satisfaction and adherence, improve efficiency, and directly impact quality measures such as HEDIS and Medicare Star ratings.

AI virtual health technology can also help with data collection to facilitate preventative care interventions and guide future health initiatives. For example, if a health plan needs to administer a fall risk assessment or an SDOH survey, the technology can assist with the distribution and collection of that information accordingly. If a healthcare organization needs to send health screening reminders, it can send those alerts to the appropriate patients and collect responses. It can also help to reduce workload and administrative burden for practices, leaving healthcare staff to focus more on caring for the patient and handling issues that require direct interaction.

Addressing the Triple Threat

For healthcare payers and providers looking for solutions to help address the triple threat – a growing senior population, an increase in falls, and a healthcare worker shortage – the industry can arm itself with connective health technology to support these evolving needs. These solutions help deliver enhanced data and insights while linking individuals to their care teams. Furthermore, they enable healthcare organizations to prevent costly and devastating falls among their at-risk populations and empower them to age safely and well with dignity in their homes.