Canada has an aging population. It’s not a secret — it’s just statistics.
There are more Canadians over 65 than there are kids under 14.
Baby boomers have started to fall into this cohort, people are living an awful lot longer, and the long-awaited problem of long-term demographics is beginning to come home to roost.
Which, of course, presents major challenges to our society, specifically around healthcare, as we try and answer the fundamental question: there are limited healthcare dollars that have not increased in line with demographics. As medical care gets more expensive per user and there are more users, how are we going to pay for it?
This is a complex and, frankly, a politically charged question.
But what’s clear is that we’re going to need to find efficiencies in our healthcare and long-term care solutions wherever we can.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about in this article: how technology and digital transformation can help improve the quality of care provided by long-term care facilities (LTCFs), and what healthcare can learn from other digitally transformed industries to facilitate service delivery.
There are challenges to running a LTCF. And as the demand of customers increases over time, the struggles to provide a better experience are only set to deepen.
However, these issues not as unique as you might think.
For instance, LTCFs operate essentially as large, well-staffed hotels with a healthcare spin.
And the hospitality industry has embraced digital transformation better than most, particularly on the customer side of things.
For instance, the Hilton Group has an app and a digital key so users can experience their hotel end-to-end via their phone, and the CitizenM hotels have been built from the ground up to facilitate digital transactions. What’s more, In the background, there’s been another, more subtle transformation going on in how the facilities acquire the products and assets they need to operate.
Further up the logistics chain, more effort is being put into getting goods to where they need to go through data sharing, collaboration, and standardization.
More importantly, the lessons that have been (painfully) learned by the hotel industry can be mapped onto the LTCF industry, too:
Expectations are set by the best user experience. The fact is, people will base their expectations of service on the best service they have, not the worst or the average. What’s more, people tend to compare across industries. What this means is that the experiences provided digitally by Google and Netflix, and in real life by people like CitizenM, are what people expect from their healthcare.
People like to do things themselves. The rise of self-service — whether in hospitality, software, customer service, retail, or travel — sends a clear message: people like to be left alone. For healthcare, this means people want the ability to take care of little things themselves, without bothering with the hassle of calling in a nurse, doctor, or care worker.
There will be alternatives (and ignoring them won’t make them go away). Whenever there's a large market with increasing demand and even a hint of a tech-savvy solution, you can bet there’s going to be a host of companies looking to disrupt. And who knows what form that might take? More home healthcare, rotating caregivers, deploying care in a gig-economy structure — it’s all on the table.
How LTCFs Can Win With Digital Transformation
With these factors in mind, there are still a few things that LTCF organizations can do to digitally transform their offering effectively.
Focus on the Customer Experience
In general, LTCFs and their partners will need to up their game. And this might manifest itself in different ways:
Streamlining back-end systems like IT, administration, and logistics to free up cash to put into care workers and facilities
Embracing data and identification technology to personalize experiences for patients.
Building out robust digital infrastructure to make things like visitation easier for patients and their families
However LTCFs choose to do it, they need to begin looking towards global leaders across industries, rather than just in their own, to get a baseline for what they need to provide.
Build Systems to Keep People at Home Longer
LTCFs and the broader healthcare community need to reimagine their industry to accommodate the inevitable rise in home- and self-care. There are clear financial incentives for people to extend their stay at home and take on more self-care responsibilities, from administering medicines to simple diagnosis and monitoring.
This is already happening on a small scale — the FDA approved 36 devices to connect people to their healthcare last year alone, and areas across the healthcare community embracing digital technology include mobile and telephone-based health (mhealth and telehealth).
Home care is one of the few things that is both cheaper to provide and better for patients and their outcomes, so the healthcare community needs to enable that. Things like feedback devices, online dashboards, and digital access to health professionals will all help people manage their health solo for longer and postpone the time when patients need more hands-on care.
Think Holistically & Embrace Change
Extending a customer-centric model of care beyond the traditional silos of healthcare should be a core priority for LTCFs. They should be thinking about:
How they administer care and work with suppliers, medical and otherwise, ensuring consistent, clear and (hopefully) automated systems.
How they can capture data from their patients and leverage that data to provide more effective care, as well as share that data in a safe and secure way with the broader medical community
How they can accept critical data from other sources and feed it back into their own processes.
The goal should be to unite different elements of the healthcare world and find efficiencies at a systemic level, rather than an intra-organizational one.
Second, long-term care facilities need to be aware of and ready to embrace change as it happens.
If you think of healthcare as a marketplace, the aging demographics of Canada and other western nations, as well as the advances of medicine that keep people alive for longer, translates into a larger pie, where it's in a business's best interests to keep its customers healthy for as long as possible.
In short, there’s money to be made. And innovators and entrepreneurs are not going to let the opportunity pass.
New startups looking to streamline how data is collected and shared, how healthcare supplies are delivered both to facilities and to patients, how systems can be overhauled to improve operating costs, tools to reduce the time medical processes take, and tools to increase practitioner efficiency, are all either in play or on the horizon.
The best thing long-term care facilities and their extended supply chains can do is stay open and agile, ready to adapt to new technology and methodologies as they become available.
We have an aging population. Healthcare costs as a nation are going to increase substantially and it’s hardly a unique problem. But we think that this presents an opportunity.
Technology, digital transformation, and shifting objectives and priorities are all going to play a role as LTCF struggle to manage the influx of patients.
They're going to have to be faster, savvier, and more effective than ever. Fortunately, we think that digital transformation is going to provide the tools, data, systems, and paradigms to make it happen.