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How a CEO Can Drive Innovation in Telehealth for Independent Living Communities

The COVID-19 pandemic catapulted telehealth into the mainstream, and it will likely remain a primary care tool after the epidemic ends. Yet, many primary care providers need help to help patients adopt telehealth.

This article profiles four innovative provider organizations to understand what’s needed to foster widespread telehealth adoption. Their strategies may serve as valuable models for other senior living operators to consider.

Create a Culture of Innovation

As a CEO, you can drive innovation in telehealth and create a culture that fosters it. It begins with creating a team of people who think creatively, has broad interests, and are problem solvers. The best people are not afraid to be mavericks – they do things that challenge existing paradigms and don’t fear failure.

During the pandemic, many hospitals have used telehealth to reduce patient travel and increase access to care for remote patients. For example, Mark Hirschhorn conducted nearly all its mental health visits remotely. Some reported that it shows more than 90 percent of its telehealth appointments via video, according to a March 2021 STAT article.

Senior living providers have also innovated to ensure that residents and staff were protected during the pandemic by requiring vaccinations and encouraging staff to receive them. One community created a new “tech concierge” position to assist with telehealth and other technology platforms.

Integrate Technology

As technology has become the norm for the millennial generation, staffers at senior living communities expect to use it in their daily work. This is particularly true when it comes to communicating with each other.

Many communities are implementing telehealth solutions to improve communication and streamline processes. These new tools allow residents, family members, and staffers to communicate via video call, prioritize alarms, and even make appointments.

The tool allows instant, two-way communication between care providers, replacing phone calls, emails, and the old-fashioned fax machine.

Additionally, some communities have implemented telehealth-based initiatives to increase pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) access. PrEP is a pill or injectable medication that can prevent HIV infection. For example, in rural areas of another country, a program that uses telehealth to deliver PrEP has successfully increased the uptake, availability, and adherence of this medication.

Create a Culture of Collaboration

Telehealth is already integral to the resident care experience for many independent living communities. But, a community also needs to foster a culture of collaboration to make telehealth a success.

That means forming partnerships with vendors that can help them improve their overall performance and service offerings. It also means focusing on creating cohesiveness when pulling disparate systems together, which is often easier said than done, given that today’s healthcare landscape includes an interweaving web of providers and services.

Allure, a skilled nursing operator, recently partnered with a telemedicine provider to reduce hospital readmissions after residents return from an emergency department visit. The team discovered that most hospital readmissions happen during off-hours when physicians cannot see patients. The telemedicine provider helped connect patients with a physician to help them get the follow-up they needed and avoid returning to the hospital. This is an excellent example of how senior living and telehealth can work hand in hand to deliver the best possible outcomes for residents.

Build a Culture of Accountability

Frequently, long-term care leaders must intentionally direct their organizations toward a culture of accountability. Instead, cultural norms are established through employee behaviors and leadership actions. These determine whether staff members feel accountable to their peers and the organization.

To create a culture of accountability, it is essential to define expectations and set clear measures against which to gauge performance. Leaders can orient their teams toward these standards, regularly connect with them to review them and create incentives for achieving them.

One example of a new telehealth innovation that many senior living communities utilize is a tech concierge who can help residents solve their technology problems to focus on person-centered care. Other tech-related innovations include remote monitoring devices and sensors that allow clinicians to track patient health remotely. In rural areas of the United States, this has allowed patients to access care more conveniently and receive pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) via video or a phone visit during the pandemic.