Ideas. Action. Results.

What role can technology play in enhancing the ability of seniors to age in place—in homes and in communities? View the full forum.

By Bill Kelly

Technology is increasingly integrated into our lives. It is faster, more reliable and easier to use than ever. In the world of health care coordination and services, broadband and bluetooth technologies have made telehealth and other technologies feasible methods for delivering quality care, especially to people living in medically underserved areas where there is less access to convenient primary care. Despite these advances, we remain far from fulfilling the full promise and potential of telehealth, personal response systems, and passive sensor technology.

Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future’s (SAHF) eleven non-profit members provide affordable rental apartments to 116,000 households. With over 60,000 senior households, many SAHF members are testing enhanced resident service coordination approaches to help their residents age in place.

One member, the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society is leading the charge to find innovative ways to incorporate technology into the care of residents, including those living in affordable housing properties, a group that has often been overlooked in the past. The society has pioneered a service called [email protected], which utilizes telehealth, personal response systems and passive sensor technology to monitor vital signs, sleep patterns, medication adherence, movement, and other activities for patterns that suggest potential health challenges. This program, that currently serves more than 1,500 clients, allows for earlier detection and intervention when needed.

[email protected] is making a difference for seniors. For instance, earlier this year the society, in conjunction with clinical partners, conducted a study to measure health outcomes of 60 patients using [email protected] services. Over a four month period, the study found [email protected] prevented 12 hospitalizations, representing an estimated savings of $457,476.

The society is also partnering with the University of Minnesota in a multistate, longitudinal study of the effects of [email protected] technologies on over 1,500 seniors. The results of this study, funded by the Rural Healthcare Program of The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, are expected to become available in 2016.

The society is applying its success to the affordable housing setting. A recent pilot study of society telehealth and wellness coaching in an affordable housing setting found that participants could see significant improvements in health outcomes, as well as fewer ER visits, since preventable health problems could be addressed prior to emergency care becoming necessary.

All these data point toward the growing importance of telehealth, passive sensors and other health related technology. To continue making progress in using these tools to the advantage of seniors, Medicare guidelines may need to be adjusted to allow for greater inclusion of technologies like [email protected]

Improving health outcomes and reducing health care costs for seniors living in affordable housing settings in underserved rural and urban areas may soon be within our grasp. With the aid of services like [email protected], we can move from treating illness to encouraging wellness, and at the same time give residents of affordable housing properties more control over their own health outcomes.

When that happens, we will all win.

Bill Kelly is a strategic advisor for Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF).

Welcome to the BPC Health and Housing Expert Forum. Each month contributors from different parts of the health and housing sectors will be invited to respond to a discussion topic. Have a question you’d like us to consider? Please leave it in the comments.

Any views expressed on this forum do not necessarily represent the views of the Health and Housing Task Force, its co-chairs, or the Bipartisan Policy Center.