Hospices have increasingly leveraged technologies to support their clinical and business operations as they face challenges brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic may be accelerating a digital shift in operations as providers absorb COVID-19 impacts on technology utilization, with the business of hospice anticipated to run more virtually in coming years.
The hospice industry has been evolving as providers pursue technological advancements to improve their workflows, operational efficiencies and enhance patient care. Video calls, cloud-based operating systems and predictive analytics are some of the technologies making waves toward an increasingly virtual world of hospice operations.
Virtual capabilities have become vital for hospices during COVID-19 with the need to socially distance to prevent risk of exposure among their workforce and vulnerable patients. The pandemic’s disruptions to the business of hospice has forced many organizations to operate with a remote workforce and more digital processes. Some organizations have reported increased productivity and positive reception among staff working from home.
“Using technology to become more efficient has been on our roadmap,” said Bob Parker, chief clinical and compliance officer of Intrepid USA during the Hospice News Elevate conference. “The pandemic helped to accelerate some of our strategies to go forward. The biggest shift for us is running our national support center and corporate office from a virtual perspective. What we’ve seen is they actually become more efficient in their day-to-day work, they seem happier and we’re getting more productivity out of them. It’s been a win-win. ”
The impacts may be reaching as providers absorb lessons during COVID-19 and work to improve efficiencies among staff through virtual avenues. Hospices will need to have sufficient technology systems in place that can keep interdisciplinary teams connected and updated on evolving patient needs in real time.
Internet bandwidth, smooth internal communications, electronic medical recordkeeping systems and patient data tracking systems have become key elements for hospices to run smoothly from a distance. Hospices have invested in these technologies to improve care team connections, with a trickling effect on patient outcomes and family experiences of care.
“Aspire Hospice has been very interested in using technology to its fullest so we can work smarter and not harder,” said Kris Carter, CEO and owner of Aspire Home Health and Hospice. “To be able to have information in real time makes a big difference in the delivery of care. It helps the after-hours people to understand what’s going on much better and deliver much more effective care. Having a web-based application with the ability to sync up to our system helps us to just even be able to communicate the changes that are going on in the patient.”
Emerging artificial intelligence systems, such as predictive analytics, have helped hospice providers to identify patients in greatest need of their services and allocate a stretched workforce amid industry-wide staffing shortages. Predictive analytical and patient monitoring technologies have reshaped hospice provider’s operational approach to the delivery of care, with many utilizing data points to improve upon quality of care measures.
Providers have engaged these systems to help ensure the right patients are receiving the right care at the right time, often generating health care cost savings as hospices bring patients under their care further upstream.
“There’s a real opportunity to improve family and patient experiences and also total cost of care if we’re able to identify individuals who could be suitable for palliative or hospice care earlier in their health care trajectory,” said Wes Little, chief analytics officer for WellSky. “If you can help prompt those discussions with some meaningful data that compares each individual to hundreds of thousands, you can add a whole lot of value to that conversation and give the clinical care team some real insight to be able to use to make that conversation as effective as possible.”
Some of this innovation has come with a hefty price tag for many hospices facing financial difficulties from pandemic-related headwinds. Concerns over the return on investment may be mounting as another COVID-19 surge threatens to further strain providers.
Surfing these waves of change could make or break hospices in an increasingly competitive market. Despite the costs, investing in technologies may be key for hospices sustain themselves through the pandemic and remain relevant long term.
“Although technology can be expensive in a lot of ways, without it there’s no way to become efficient and drive very streamlined efficiencies and processes to deliver care,” said Parker. “We’re doing a lot of virtualization of how we look at a lot of these things and how we can do things differently. We’ve really moved to that mindset of keeping a virtual mentality in how we will continue to go forward. Once this [pandemic] is over, I don’t see us really moving back too much to more of that centralized aspect.”