Telehealth and America’s Aging Population

Trisha Bonner Alexia Clutter English Comp. 1 25 March 2012 Telehealth and America’s Aging Population America is facing a crisis. Federal spending on health care is at an all-time high, and is projected to continue growing. Two large contributors to this growth are the ever-expanding proportion of senior citizens, and the enormous costs of long-term care. A well-received solution, seemingly taken right out of the pages of someone’s favorite science-fiction novel, telehealth is currently being tested and used today.

The University of Washington Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Aging staff defines telehealth as “the use of telecommunications technologies to exchange health information and provide healthcare services” (House Call 19). The preliminary results of the utilization of this new technology has shown promising ways to help the elderly remain in their homes longer, and provide cost-saving benefits for the elderly and the government. In an article found on Senior Journal. om, “New Roles for Increasing Percentage of Older Citizens in an Aging America;” author Stephen Tung reports that, as of Feb. 2012, in the United States 10,000 people reach the age of 65 every day (1). In addition, the report highlighting statistics from the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics; “Senior Citizens Doing Better, Health Care Costs a Big Problem says Older Americans 2010” as of 2008, there were approximately 39 million people over the age of 65. By the year 2030, this number is expected to almost double, to about 72 million (Seniors Doing Better).

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With the onset of America’s aging population, skyrocketing Medicare and Medicaid costs have become a major source of concern for the government. On the website for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in the National Health Expenditures Projections 2010-2020, the government reports that 925. 7 billion dollars was spent on Medicare and Medicaid in 2010 (NHE 7). This number is projected to almost double by 2020, to $1,830. 1 billion [with current health care reform] (NHE 7) or $1,777. billion [without] (NHE 8). By the year 2020, Medicare and Medicaid are projected to spend $120. 1 billion on long-term care alone (NHE 18). Author Rachel Brand states in the article “The 800-Pound Gorilla;” for The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), although children and pregnant women account for the majority of Medicaid recipients; “long-term care and other services for the elderly and disabled accounts for . 67 cents of every dollar spent on Medicaid” (15). In 2009, $366 billion was spent on Medicaid (16).

With these staggering numbers, it is no wonder that the government and America’s citizens are scrambling to find a cost-effective solution. Telehealth just might be this solution. This technology is able to do a wide variety of tasks that previously needed to be done in a hospital, nursing home, or other long-term care setting. Patients can now visit with a healthcare provider via webcam, use body sensors to keep track of vital signs, have call buttons for emergencies, and even have their medications dispensed on a set schedule.

Utilizing this technology can replace the need for extended hospital stays, and allow more people to remain at home; while still remaining under the watchful eyes of their health care providers. With the costs of nursing home care ranging from around $34,000 a year all the way up to around $75,000, or more, depending on the level of care needed, this technology should be seen as a welcomed addition to our health care system. And for some people, it already is. One such person who recognized the usefulness of this technology is D. Keith Perry.

Perry is the president and CEO of Sears Methodist Retirement System (SMRS) based in Texas. When being faced with aging facilities, Perry recognized the need for change. As Perry states in “Broadening the Business: How One Facility Operator Knocked down His Walls;” written by Richard L. Peck, “Why are we spending all the time, energy, and money to provide bricks and mortar serving the few? Only a few elderly people end up in our facilities, 90% of them stay home for most of their lives. Why weren’t we doing anything to serve them? ” (Qtd. in Peck).

Having asked himself this question, Perry came up with a plan. In 1996 he opened various facilities to serve his elderly clients, 14 new facilities in all. Even with these new facilities, he knew he was still missing something for his “stay-at-home” clients. Perry looked to the world of technology. He saw in the ever-evolving technological advances an opportunity for seniors to safely stay in the comfort of their own homes as they age. Perry put together a team of his best nurses and administrators, and asked them to start going over the current technologies to find the most cost-effective, asy to use systems. After over a year of preparation, and some corporate maneuvering, [email protected] was formed. Although this system is still in testing, Peck writes that it is able to “passively monitor physical functions-25 in all-including cardiac function, blood sugar, blood oxygen, wound healing, and medication use[including scheduled dispensing], in real time 24/7” (2). Each patient’s normal range is programmed into a base system, and an alert is directed to a nurse at a call center when these numbers go outside of each patient’s range.

The nurse is then able to take appropriate measures to assist the patient. The current costs that patients pay for this new program can range anywhere from $25 to $1,200 a month, depending on the level of care needed (3). A patient needing the highest level of care is only paying around $14,400 a year. That is a significant savings from the $34,000 to $75,000+ that is needed for a nursing home. In 2005, long-term care spending reached $207 billion. 48. 9% of which was paid by Medicaid, 20. 4% by Medicare, and 18. % paid by citizens (Miller, Mor, and Clark 239). Since a large percentage of nursing home care is paid for by the government, with the remainder eating away at the life-savings of the elderly and their families, telehealth could be a new technology that America’s elderly and the government take seriously. While the cost-saving benefits are there; this program has not been without problems. Sheri Easton-Garrett, RN, MSN, who is the interim CEO of [email protected], states that some seniors are having a hard time adjusting to the new technology.

Easton-Garrett feels that, although most seniors are okay with the sensor monitors, they are uncomfortable with the cameras, and even though they are told they cannot be activated without consent, they tend to not believe them, and cover the cameras anyway (3). In order to combat the fear of technology some seniors have, SMRS has started screening patients for how “technology-friendly” they will be, and how much training will be needed for individual patients to effectively use and adapt to the equipment.

According to Perry, “We’re really developing this for the next generation of seniors” (Qtd. in Peck). Current participants seem to be responding well to the extra training, and seem to be growing more comfortable using this technology every day. It would appear that, with new technologies developing at a high rate of speed, and current generations becoming more comfortable including these technologies in their everyday lives, future generations will be well prepared to implement telehealth into their lives and homes.

In doing so, future seniors could have the option of remaining in their own homes longer while still receiving excellent care, and the rising costs of long-term care could be seen as something only read about in science-fiction novels. Telehealth could truly help America divert a crisis. Works Cited Brand, Rachel. “Medicaid: The 800-Pound Gorilla. ” Www. ncsl. org. National Conference of State Legislatures, Nov. 2011. Web. 21 Mar. 2012. “House Call. ”Pn 65. 12 (2011): 19-21. CINAHL with Full Text. Web. 24 Mar. 2012.

Peck, RL. “Broadening The Business: How One Facility Operator Knocked Down His Walls. ” Nursing Homes: Long Term Care Management 56. 5 (2007): 26-30. CINAHL with Full Text. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. Miller, Edward Alan, Vincent Mor, and Melissa Clark. “Reforming Long-Term Care in the United States: Findings from a National Survey of Specialists. ” Gerontologist 50. 2 (2010): 238-252. Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition. Web. 2 Apr. 2012. . “Senior Citizens Doing Better, Health Care Costs a Big Problem Says Older Americans 2010. Senior Citizen News and Information Daily On the Web at SeniorJournal. com. Www. NewTechMedia. com, 19 July 2010. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. Tung, Stephen. “New Roles for Increasing Percentage of Older Citizens in an Aging America. ” Senior Citizen News and Information Daily On The Web at SeniorJournal. com. Www. NewTechMedia. com, 21 Feb. 2012. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. United States. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Office of the Actuary, National Health Statistics Group. National Health Expenditures Projections 2010-2020. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Jan.

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