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Extolling The Benefits Of EHRs

There’s no question technology is playing a more active role in senior care today, and electronic health records (EHR) are just one of the differentiators coming into play as seniors and their families evaluate communities and job candidates choose employers. Yet, studies show less than 20 percent of assisted living communities and similar residential care communities in the U.S. have adopted EHRs.

Tony Coco, President & CEO, BlueStrata

Barriers in these settings typically include cost, implementation of standards, workflow disruptions, technological challenges and staffing, according to a report publicly released Feb. 27, 2017, by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Electronic Health Records: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Needs to Improve Planning and Evaluation of Its Efforts to Increase Information Exchange in Post-Acute Care Settings.”

Tony Coco, president & CEO, BlueStrata Electronic Health Records, which focuses its work in nursing homes and assisted living communities, agrees that the largest barrier to senior living adopting EHRs revolves around funding.

Mark Anderson, Senior VP, Eldermark Senior Housing Software

“There is little or no financial incentive provided through the federal government like when the ACA and Meaningful Use took hold,” he said. “We work with our customers to build awareness around ROI (hard dollars) and efficiencies (soft dollars), but the industry could use some help in this area.”

Mark Anderson, senior VP, consulting services, Eldermark Senior Housing Software, continues to hear owners and operators, specifically in housing, speak to the fear of adopting any new technology whether it’s an EHR or nurse call system—either overwhelmed by the flood of new products coming into the market or waiting for the “right” system to meet all their needs.

Travis Palmquist, VP and GM, Senior Living Division, PointClickCare Technologies Inc., says, “It’s not that they don’t see the value in it. It’s that they question whether their staff can adopt the software in a manner that’s going to help the organization realize the value proposition. The onus is now on us to build simple solutions that are easy to learn, work flow and navigation easy to employ and intuitive—something early technology providers failed to realize, that scared some people away.”

Travis Palmquist, VP & GM, Senior Living Division, PointClickCare

Palmquist explained why technology is more relevant for senior living today than 5-10 years ago. “The trends are undeniable. The expectations of the resident and their families have never been higher—higher expectations, higher complexities—they expect more on the service side, expect more on the health care side.

“The average resident in assisted living today is on nine medications. The average size of assisted living is in the 60-70 unit range. Imagine the complexities of one service alone—medication management—just getting that right—not only are you delivering service with excellence and on time, but capturing it all so you can bill appropriately for it…We need to get these tools in the hands of the caregivers so that they can do what they’re passionate about—delivering service with excellence,” Palmquist said.

Whether it’s medication management, assistance with daily living or other wellness, activities, outings, appointments—all that caregivers are managing for their residents today can be put in one place—and often technology feeds the service plan and the schedule. You change it once, and it updates that information everywhere.

Holiday Resort, Emporia, KS, an “early adopter” of EHRs in the industry, has recognized the benefits of leveraging technology for many years and experienced several improvements in operational performance, for example, managing orders through the electronic medication administration and inherent safety associated with that approach.

Mike Kerbs, Administrator, Holiday Resort

Of BlueStrata’s EHR system, Administrator Mike Kerbs, believes, “the most striking benefit really has to be that I can take great advantage of the reporting and analytics that are available at my fingertips and with a click of the mouse. It allows me to operate in the most effective manner and provide very high quality care.”

Epiphany Assisted Living in Coon Rapids, MN, which began using Eldermark Software in 2012, was initially challenged with establishing buy-in from the clinical and direct care team.

“I wasn’t surprised at all by the benefits of EHRs, but the clinical and direct care team, now seeing the opportunity the software affords, are shocked at the ease and reliability of using the Eldermark software,” said Terri Pratt, Epiphany executive director. “The clinical team now has access to electronic records when they work on-call, which is extremely helpful in managing the customer experience when the need arises.”

Welcov Healthcare has 18 assisted living buildings with 516 apartments, and 40 skilled nursing facilities across the Midwest, all managed from Odina, MN. Rebecca Wolf, executive director at Welcov Assisted Living at Alta (Iowa) since 2015, had been with Welcov three years prior to that. She was there for the rollover with skilled nursing, then assisted living, as they transferred everything—not just EHRs but all computer systems—to PointClickCare.

Rebecca Wolf, Executive Director, Welcov Assisted Living at Alta

“The challenge for them was for them to take everything we need and all components of our business, put it into one project, and make it efficient for the whole organization,” said Wolf. “The state-of-the-art technology has allowed us to be an innovative leader and provide really exceptional customer service that keeps us going over and beyond what’s expected of us.”

Wolf can manage all her responsibilities—financial, clinical, dietary, environmental, marketing, compliance, staffing issues—together in an efficient and workable manner “without charts and binders all over the place,” and monitor everything that’s going on in her building.

Other staff, management, and the corporate team can access the system anywhere, anytime and see in real time what’s going on, what’s needed, staffing, who needs training, monitor departments. Those on call on weekends can do things from home using their smart phones or iPads like returning calls to customers, talking to families.

“The biggest changes, however, were the ability to get consistent levels of care put in place, resulting in a $750,000 increase in our revenue,” Wolf said. “When we did this and had all this at our finger tips with the residents and families, we did it without losing a single resident.

“As far as medication management, medical errors have decreased by 90 percent, because this technology alerts us when medications are due, when residents are supposed to be taking insulin, getting tests, when any of our cares are coming up. It tells us what to do, the staff does it and marks it off as they’re doing it so they don’t have to come back to do it. It’s a time-saving device that enhances care, because it allows staff to spend more quality time with the residents.”

Regarding compliance, Wolf credited their recent zero-deficiency-state survey in large part to PointClickCare because of the documentation—real time information that’s put into the computer provided, and the alerts that keep staff on their toes.

EHRs have helped in recruiting staff, both those coming out of college who are attracted to technology, and older workers, who like seeing the innovation and appreciate the user-friendly nature of the software that makes the job easier. Training is also simplified, because everything is documented in real time, all transparent, on the computer for everyone to see.

“We don’t have to go to binders to look up things. We don’t have to have someone that has all the secrets there to train someone,” said Wolf. “This is how we do it, when you do it, this is our procedures.”

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Cheryl Slavinsky Cheryl Slavinsky
Associate Editor
As associate editor, Cheryl writes a weekly feature story for Senior Living News and helps plan its HealthTAC events. Previously senior public relations strategist for Varsity, a marketing and sales consulting agency focused on occupancy for retirement communities, CCRCs and assisted living facilities, Cheryl continues to serve senior living clients. She also managed national media relations as Rite Aid's director of public relations and Hershey Entertainment & Resorts' manager of public relations.