The world of healthcare looks quite different from how it did as recently as five years ago, especially as the pandemic accelerated changes that were already happening within the industry. Home healthcare is the biggest change, moving the point of care away from the centralized hospital setting and into the patient’s home.
Patients over the years have desired better data protection, greater convenience, and more affordable services in healthcare. And medical facilities have worked constantly to develop new strategies for each under-served and rural community. Hospitals still have a vital role to play, even as services migrate to smaller, more convenient clinics, located everywhere now.
However, they’re no longer the only focus of care. Instead, wellness initiatives and medical services are coming to patients in their communities and homes.
Many seniors are exploring their home care options. This aging demographic is increasingly likely to want to age in place at home instead of moving to high-density living facilities. An AARP survey suggests that 77 percent of adults over 50 want to stay in their home for the long term, living alone or with family.
Home healthcare has the potential to help seniors stay independent and improve their quality of life. It can also take pressure off of family acting as caregivers. However, despite all of the patient preferences and technological advancements that are driving this shift, home-based care and telehealth still face some significant challenges.
What’s Driving the Trend
As well as consumer demand, there are a number of technological factors at work behind the scenes. One of the biggest changes to enable decentralized healthcare is the development of electronic health records. Patient files used to be physical documents that needed to be kept under lock and key in the hospital or clinic.
Now, thanks to improved cybersecurity measures and data encryption, these files can be kept online, “in the cloud” and accessed remotely.
Patient files aren’t the only thing getting a technological upgrade. There’s a growing marketplace of health monitoring devices and other care equipment that can be implemented within the household. These include therapeutics like home dialysis machines, diagnostic equipment like sleep apnea monitors, and a variety of home medical furniture like smart beds.
All of these can take aspects of medical care out of clinics and into the home. Wearable devices such as life alert systems are also now getting supplemented with diagnostic capabilities, increasingly loaded into smart watches, even including fall detection and prevention.
A third major factor has been the growth of 5G networks. Fast, stable internet is critical for many telehealth applications. During the pandemic, the pressure was put on internet providers to offer improved speeds. This was necessary so that children could attend school virtually. However, better affordable internet also creates an opportunity for adults and seniors to connect with telehealth services.
Advantages of Home Healthcare
Americans are eagerly adopting remote healthcare as a natural aspect of home-based healthcare. According to a study by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a third of adults arranged a telehealth visit for themselves or someone they’re caring for during 2020. Meanwhile, 80% reported willingness to use telehealth in the future.
There’s a growing body of data demonstrating that telehealth and more general wellness support are both cost-effective and lead to better patient outcomes. Convenience is a factor, home healthcare can be life-changing also for seniors and their families.
Going to the hospital can be very expensive in terms of both time and money. Seniors on a very tight budget may not be able to cross this barrier. Meanwhile, telehealth allows people in rural areas to access rehabilitation therapies and mental health care that might otherwise be out of reach.
Handling some of their medical needs at home can increase a senior’s self-sufficiency, further improving their mental and emotional wellbeing. They are empowered to actively participate in their own healthcare instead of passively receiving it. Home wellness services also offer relief to family members who often act as unpaid and overworked caregivers.
Home Healthcare Challenges
Home care offers many positives, but it’s also facing significant challenges that could slow its widespread implementation. One of them is healthcare’s well-known labor shortage. Several years of pandemic-related burnout have only increased the number of trained medical professionals who are leaving the medical sector. Hospital systems are struggling to both retain staff and attract new ones.
Money is another major limiting factor. Many insurance companies have been slow to back home healthcare. As of 2022, only 14% of Medicare Advantage Plans offered home care benefits. This is double that of the year before, but there remains a lot of room for improvement.
There is growing data to show the efficacy and cost reductions of remote care and wellness support. The increased convenience, reduced costs, and opportunity to maintain independence will make it a very attractive option for many seniors, challenging the medical industry to keep up with the demand that keeps home healthcare booming.