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Telehealth Gives Senior Centers a Gateway to Patient Engagement

California-based Front Porch is using a wide variety of telehealth programs, from interactive touchscreens and tablets to robotic seals, to engage its senior population and improve their mental and physical health.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Senior centers across the country are deploying a wide range of telehealth and mHealth technologies to keep their residents active and engaged.

One such example is Front Porch, a Glendale, Calif.-based non-profit comprising 10 full-service retirement communities in southern California and two adult living facilities, one in Louisiana and one in Florida. Through the Front Porch Center for WellBeing, the agency has been using wearables, telehealth platforms, computer-aided “exergames” and even a robotic seal called PARO to promote physical and mental well-being.

“It does an amazing world of difference in our operations and in the general caregiving environment,” says Davis Park, FPCIW’s director. “We’re making meaningful connections.”

In doing so, Front Porch is addressing a trend that will challenge senior living and healthcare providers in the not-too-distant future. With the first members of the Baby Boomer generation having turned 65 in 2011, the nation’s ranks of seniors is expected to double in just 12 years, representing one-fifth of the population.

With that population growth comes a strain on healthcare resources, especially in the management of chronic care and dementia-related cases, as the ranks of doctors and nurses face their own downward trends. Through the use of digital health technology and connected care, providers hope to improve senior health, reduce unnecessary and expensive healthcare interventions and create a more collaborative health and wellness environment.

In 2015, Front Porch launched It’s Never 2 Late (IN2L) at the Sunny View Retirement Community. The program, in use in more than 2,000 senior living facilities across the country, features a 70-inch smartboard with interactive applications. Through the smartboard – and more, recently, through a tablet - residents at Sunny View’s skilled nursing care center and memory care neighborhood were able to play games, surf the Internet and communicate with relatives and friends (one even live-streamed a grandson’s graduation from a New York college).

 For people accustomed to sitting back and watching the world go by, that mHealth link enabled them to reconnect and take a more active role.

“We wanted to find a way to get them connected and get them engaged,” says Park. “We’re customizing care for them so that we can reach them at their level.”

The results of the pilot bear that out. According to a tracking survey of 1,114 IN2L sessions, the overall mood of the patients using the mHealth platform, measured before and after the sessions, improved roughly 63 percent.

“We’ve seen a phenomenal change in residents,” JoAnn Gilbert, Sunny View’s director of health services, said in an IN2L case study prepared by Front Porch.

“This is all about how you can bring this window of opportunity to people who otherwise cannot be reached,” adds Park, who talked of engaging with one unresponsive woman by helping her to find, online, the coffee shop she used to own.

IN2L is one of several mHealth and telehealth programs launched by Front Porch. Others include Hearables for All, a project examining the impact of hearing loss to patients’ overall health and wellness through specially-developed group listening technology; a program exploring the benefits and uses of Amazon Echo devices and Alexa platforms; and  the PARO program, which uses a robot baby harp seal to engage patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia.

In healthcare circles, some mHealth and telehealth programs have been shown to help seniors improve physical and mental acuity, reduce healthcare costs and adverse events and even cut down on medication use.

Park says senior service providers like Front Porch are still in the early stages of using telehealth and mHealth technology, so the numbers aren’t there yet to prove that these platforms improve clinical outcomes. He expects that to change.

“We already know that it brings value,” he says. “We knew that it would engage (the seniors), so that’s a benefit. It starts with patient engagement, and the rest will follow.”

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