Experts: Combine tech innovations with a human touch to attract skilled workers and help home care thrive as demand increases.
According to a new report, the strategic use of technology is key to improving home care jobs and maximizing workers’ positive impact on service delivery and outcomes. Although high-tech innovations won’t replace high-quality direct care, they can help attract more and better workers, as well as enhance client satisfaction. This could solve many challenges for a healthcare sector facing a looming worker shortage.
The report identified four categories of technology that most directly impact home care efficiency and effectiveness.
- Support workers’ training and skills development. E-learning is an important strategy here. This involves a variety of methods and modalities, including audio and video files, PowerPoint presentations, interactive lessons, and real-world simulations. E-learning can help augment in-person learning for home care workers or fill training gaps. One program, MOBILE UP, provides instruction through workers’ mobile phones (without requiring Internet access) that they can connect to anytime, anywhere. Among other things, it offers instruction in English as a second language.
- Augment direct assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs). Sometimes called “assistive products,” these technologies include any specially designed or generally available products whose primary purpose is to maintain/improve a person’s functioning and independence. These range from wearable technologies and smart-home devices to fully developed robots. This is a fast-growing field; there are currently about 40,000 products available. One of the greatest challenges here is the variation in payment for these technologies. There may be some coverage through Medicaid and private insurance; otherwise, consumers must pay out of pocket.
- Facilitate interdisciplinary communication. This is important, as home care workers are perfectly positioned to observe, record, and report signs and symptoms of illness or condition change, but they are generally not trained to fulfill this role. Enhanced information and communication technologies (ICT) can help facilitate communication between home care workers, family members, and practitioners or others on the interdisciplinary team. To date, both telephonic and tablet-based solutions are showing promise; and the best ICT programs are those that are accessible on most devices, are designed to facilitate two-way communication, and can be used alongside existing software systems.
- Improve workforce development. Technology in this area can be used to automate or improve key operational functions in home care agencies to increase efficiency and reduce costs. For instance, gaining popularity are systems designed to schedule the best matches between workers and clients and avoid incompatibility. Many systems also offer other features such as telephonic check-in capability, billing and payroll functions, staff record management, and even an interface that enables workers to check schedules, access driving directions, and learn about their clients.
The report authors conclude that home care companies and other stakeholders “must identify and invest in the most appropriate technologies for this sector.” They stress, “It is important to underscore the value of these technologies in supporting rather than supplanting the personal relationships that are critical to quality care—including the direct relationships between home care workers and consumers, but also the relationships between training instructors and trainees, workers and clinical supervisors, and others.”