Home care is about to change for the better in Ontario and its 14 million residents – at least 2.5 million of whom are over 65.
The provincial government recently announced new legislation that would modernize the delivery of home and community care in Ontario – a move we wholeheartedly endorse and look forward to serving as a partner to the Ministry of Health.
Such transformation is a vital step in keeping up with the intensifying demand for such services, and the evolving nature of what it means to keep people safe at home, out of the hospital and other facilities. (This, of course, takes on greater importance when faced with threats such as the coronavirus.) Approximately 28,000 professional caregivers provide home care to 730,000 Ontarians every year according to Home Care Ontario, a number that will only rise.
By increasing flexibility of providers, eliminating caps on service and embracing innovations like virtual care, the province is poised to deliver Ontarians home care that suits their specific needs – and, most importantly, achieves better health outcomes.
Change is coming for the same reasons it has come to other countries, like the United States and Australia: boomers becoming seniors, people expecting more control over their care, and new technologies that are revolutionizing patient management.
This shift is something that those of us in the technology sector have been imagining for several years. To lead in our industry is to always be looking ahead, anticipating change. And we must say, for Ontarians who need care in their home and in their communities – on their own terms – the time is right now.
For too long, the narrative on health care has been unfavourable, with hospital overcrowding summed up adequately in the “Hallway Health Care” report last winter. All of that may be true – yet we are existing in an era of immense technological potential that can transform nearly every element of how providers deliver care and how patients receive it. This includes priorities such as tying health care funding to actual patient outcomes, enabling greater collaboration, leveraging data science, and delivering care where people want that care.
To pursue comprehensive change requires comprehensive support. To build an entirely different pier, you need a new foundation. To manage the complexity of rearranging a provincial health system in a sustainable way, the efficient use of data and technology is paramount to improve elements like home and community care, ensure coordinated care among all providers, and empower the agencies delivering that care with the ability to scale and manage vastly changing client needs.
As models change, the right technology is integral to embracing an industry that moves from the traditional fee-for-service model to a data-driven, outcome-focused approach. This technology is “disruptive” – but that is a bit of a misnomer because such a transition can in fact be relatively seamless.
Consider these key outcomes, which are already being realized by progressive home care agencies here in Canada:
Improved patient care: Keeping people at home and out of hospital can be achieved through technology such as remote patient monitoring. This was proven in an Ontario-based study called “SmartCoach” that showed AI-powered clinical support tools improve coordination of care among different teams and, most of all, reduced hospital readmissions. All of this translates into better patient care.
Improved patient experience: The new Ontario Health Teams must help patients transition seamlessly through the system. The new legislation’s emphasis on virtual care comes into play here, as people will demand 24/7 access to care, and new tools to manage their own care plans. Online portals already exist to connect them with caregivers and family members, their progress reports, treatment plan and visit schedules. And agencies are using technology to ensure visits are on time, by the caregiver who that client wants to see, enabling a more personalised service.
Empowering caregivers: Home care is an industry dealing with an ongoing shortage of skilled nurses and personal support workers. Making their jobs easier and more efficient can be achieved through today’s technology. For instance, GPS-based mobile care management systems streamline patient care while electronic visit verification eliminates the need for paper-based reports. Giving mobile care workers real-time access to schedules, route optimization, billing, risk assessments, time tracking, client data, and clinical forms helps them perform a job that is difficult, in short supply, and a key aspect of Ontario’s new vision for community care.
There’s no question that it’s critical to integrate care and connect players across the healthcare continuum – and Canada’s technology industry can deliver on this vision. We can help Community Support Services and Service Provider Organizations work well together in tangible ways, ultimately connecting the entire sector into the rest of the health system. We know this because we’ve already proven what’s possible in other jurisdictions such as Australia, where providers are successfully facilitating Managed Care and Client Directed Care.
Change is never easy, but it’s always necessary. Ontarians deserve better care, and this new legislation is a significant step forward toward an integrated and innovative system of care. The technology necessary is already available to make it happen.