America is experiencing an unprecedented “silver tsunami,” or, a rapidly increasing senior population, with one in five Americans projected to be over the age of 65 by 2040. Such drastic demographic change is placing immense strain on our healthcare system, chiefly in terms of the rising demand for higher acuity care.
The rise in high-acuity residents who require more monitoring has placed a heavy burden on the healthcare system, underscoring the urgent need for a comprehensive set of services, including isolation, tracheostomies, ventilators, and monitoring for depression and cognitive impairment.
Some of the challenges facing the long-term care industry include the following:
- Higher acuity: “Acuity” is a multidimensional term that encapsulates numerous aspects of patient care, ranging from the number of comorbidities to managing COVID-19 symptoms, or the degree of frailty and assistance required for daily activities. Today, nursing homes and other elder care facilities are witnessing a clear trend of higher acuity among residents, creating a complex challenge for the existing workforce. Long-term care facilities are also receiving hospital discharges sooner, forcing them to care for more medically complex residents with high acuity.
- An increase in chronic illness: With 85% of older adults having at least one chronic condition and 60% possessing two or more, our healthcare providers face an ever-growing challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the situation, causing more chronic illnesses and higher mortality in the elderly. This burgeoning prevalence of chronic conditions is stretching our healthcare system to its limits.
- Shorthanded staff: Medical professionals are grappling with onerous workloads, and they need additional help in administering care. To make matters worse, skilled nursing providers are dealing with a crippling workforce shortage while concurrently dealing with escalating costs of care and the increasing complexity of patient needs, often referred to as “acuity.”
Higher acuity is an issue in and of itself, but it is compounded by a staffing shortage that is only getting worse, which can result in lower-quality scores. In addition, more complex dosages can lead to confusion or an increased need for restroom use among patients, subsequently increasing fall risk.
The federal government has proposed a staffing mandate in response to this crisis as part of its reform initiatives. But the real silver lining appears to be technology. Implementing a value-based medication system like a state-of-the-art eMAR facilitates medication tasks, analyzing health record data, and making accurate care plans.
Effective medication management is another key element in reducing high patient acuity among seniors. With 36% of older adults taking at least five prescriptions, technology-powered pharmacists are easing potential confusion by communicating directly with patients and nurses. Remote patient monitoring and data efficiency can also act as a “staff multiplier,” easing the burden on healthcare providers and enabling more focused, personalized care.
As the “silver tsunami” continues to rise, our healthcare system is innovating and adopting technology to meet these challenges head-on. All the while ensuring the well-being of our seniors remains a top priority.
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