We have arrived in the opening chapter of this new decade, in the year of wellness. Welcome to twenty-twenty.
As our CEO, Adrian Schauer, wrote in his annual forecast of the coming year, this year will mark a major turning point in delivering not only care, but in helping patients achieve greater wellness, too. If outcomes drive efforts in health care, a shift toward fulsome wellness strategies for all patients is both necessary and long overdue.
Current strategies have been inadequate. Innovations in research labs and clinics have brought stronger medicine, advanced technologies, and more precision diagnostics. We know more about how diseases develop and progress than ever before. We are using AI to track key metrics so that care provided is as optimized and individualized as possible.
So the question is: if this is the case, why aren’t we achieving better outcomes? Why do the same health conditions inflict the same toll they have for decades? Only a few years ago, life expectancy in the U.S. dropped for the first time in over a half-century.
Around the world, health systems are beginning to take a more dedicated focus on the social determinants of health, the non-medical elements contributing to someone’s health and wellness.
If we want to limit stress, improve mental health, create healthier populations, reduce ER visits, free up hospital beds, and help people live well at home, then health-care must emphasize wellness and prevention. (And, judging by a 2018 policy paper, the American College of Physicians seems to agree.)
Wading into Wellness
What is wellness and, more specifically, why does it matter?
The World Health Organization describes wellness as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." The National Wellness Institute defines it as “a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential."
The common thread throughout any notion of what wellness means is that it’s not simply about being free from illness. Instead, it is a holistic view of a person’s total wellbeing, and how that contributes toward a high quality of life.
It goes without saying that living a satisfying, fulfilling life is a human need. Our actions and our emotions relate to our-wellbeing, which in turn affects our perceptions of ourselves and others. Wellness is cyclical to the mind and body, and therefore it’s important to ensure we’re living optimally in order to quell anxiety, reduce the risk of disease, and maintain optimism.
The components of wellness are many, and they can shift as we age. When it comes to home care and the aging population who most often requires it, certain components come into focus:
Social wellness: relationships with friends, family and even care providers provide support, emotional connection, and physical companionship. A positive social network is imperative to combat loneliness, and to foster healthy self-esteem, communication, and trust in others.
Physical wellness: physical activity, proper nutrition, quality sleep and mental health all contribute to our physical wellness. Home care providers play a pivotal role in empowering clients to care for their own physical wellness as much as possible.
Intellectual wellness: proactively seeking out creative and mentally stimulating activities not only promotes continued learning but helps sharpen cognitive function and fosters self-awareness.
Emotional wellness: is a key component to stress reduction, resiliency, and understanding of self. Knowing why an event or outcome feels a certain way can help guide appropriate responses and promote positive emotional expression, informed decision-making, and connections with others.
With this in mind, as we enter 2020 with a renewed focus on wellness, those who operate in the delivery of care must embrace the social determinants of health. These can affect the state of someone’s well-being, including where they were born, their socio-economic status, access to quality care, social support in the community, and even their own individual characteristics or habits.
This is increasingly built into mainstream therapy, such as integrative medicine that places mind, community and spirit on the same level as body in terms of whole health. Where this fits most naturally is in home care.
Home Care's Crucial Role in Wellness
Home care is, by its nature, rooted in whole-person wellness. Medical care tends to be mixed with a score of community support services intended to help clients stay at home with a level of freedom needed for a good quality of life.
It is a mix of medical and non-medical services in home care that attend to each client’s wellness: from nursing and infusion services to meal delivery, transportation and companionship. It is expected that most agencies will – if they don’t already – offer a full scope of support within a client’s care plan, with tailored care teams connected to patients and prepared to help when needed.
When it comes to social determinants of health, home care agencies are at the forefront in reducing the impact of problems like social isolation, keeping physical environments safe, and ensuring clients are engaged in what matters to them. Care and companionship go a long way in combating the growing threat to wellness: loneliness.
There is no shortage of research that has helped confirm that social isolation raises the risk of a plethora of health problems tied predominantly to the heart, mind, immune system, and metabolism. Some studies show that loneliness actually cuts one’s lifespan to a degree similar as smoking or obesity. Others show that loneliness worsens the prognosis of any chronic illness.
Meanwhile, those who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and achieve a sense of purpose. It has long been recognized that social support – through the availability of nutritious food, safe housing and seemingly mundane things like access to transportation – positively influences mental and physical health. Researchers have repeatedly found that people with fewer social connections have higher mortality rates, indicating that social isolation can directly threaten a client’s life expectancy.
Home care workers provide valuable connections to all facets of wellness, which in turn can have a real impact on patient outcomes. In fact, as detailed in a recent Home Health Care news article, whole-patient wellness, fostered in part by home visits, can ultimately lead to significant reductions in hospital readmissions and ER visits.
Home care workers bring patients a whole-person wellness focus that most busy doctors just don’t have the bandwidth to provide. The imperative is clear: by making whole wellness a priority, home care agencies can have a profound impact on their clients’ lives.
Caring for our Caregivers
Of course, those who nurture much of our clients’ wellness also require care for their whole-person too – and that means a renewed focus on supporting our caregivers, whose jobs can be demanding and exhausting. As Adrian outlined in his predictions for 2020, the financial wellbeing of caregivers must be a strategic priority for agencies, as satisfied caregivers are directly tied to satisfied clients.
Consistent hours that afford income stability are the single greatest predictor of retention. But beyond this is the importance of ensuring that caregivers feel well supported within those hours. Creating an atmosphere of community, empowering caregivers to schedule their visits and pick up extra hours when needed, and reducing the stress of added paperwork can all go hand-in-hand with boosting well-being. Here, technology plays an important role.
Make Sure you Employ the Right Technology
In 2020, technology is the prime-time player helping agencies support the wellness of clients and employees alike. The modern use of data permits them to do so with precision.
Focusing on key data points for client care, and employing such solutions has been proven to reduce readmissions to hospital. In fact, we helped prove this in a study on the two most common causes of hospitalizations: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart failure. Each trip to the hospital for someone living with a chronic illness impairs their prognosis and threatens their outcomes – keeping them safe at home is a major aspect of every wellness strategy.
Agencies can also use technology to be goal-oriented and measure the value of the care they deliver, ensuring that efforts are working to improve wellness. This is particularly important as health systems shift from a fee-for-service model to a value-based purchasing model. (Explore this issue in our case study.) Clients, governments and insurers are demanding not only the delivery of care, but care proven to work. To meet that demand, agencies must operate with technology that ensures all clinical or non-clinical interventions are dictated by specific client goals.
Online portals can connect home care clients to those managing their care plan and caregiver schedules, a connection that improves their wellness and helps put them in the driver’s seat. At the same time, improved monitoring results in improved outcomes. Rich insights from the sea of available data can inform quick and efficient action. Here at AlayaCare, our recent acquisition of Procura, whose experience spans three decades and 10 million patients, combined with the data science coming from our AlayaLabs team, will help us deliver immediate and long-term value to all of our clients.
We’ve long chronicled the precise ways that better technology can improve patient outcomes. In fact, that was the driving purpose behind our organization from the very beginning.
The year, and decade of wellness, is welcome. The home care industry has never been positioned as well as right now to make dramatic impacts on people’s lives.