The number of U.S. adults who are at least 65 years old will increase from 56.1 million in 2020 to 94.7 million in 2060, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And unfortunately, as people age, they often face more health challenges. As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports, older individuals commonly suffer from chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease; they also can be devastated by fall-related injuries.
The aging of the nation’s population will continue to complicate how hospitals deliver care. But hospitals are responding with a host of improvements in facility design, technology, and health care delivery in an effort to improve care for elderly patients. Individuals who are interested in health administration, and who may be considering an online master of health administration degree program, can benefit from learning about these innovations.
Embracing Design Changes
Understanding that their facilities must accommodate the needs of elderly patients, hospitals are implementing design changes — including some that are very simple — to better serve them. For example, as AARP has noted, hospitals are:
- Modifying their lighting to help elderly patients maintain their normal sleep patterns
- Using large-print clocks and calendars
- Stocking extra reading glasses and hearing amplifiers
- Installing artwork to improve the overall environment
A report in Kaiser Health News also noted changes to health care environments that are designed to improve care for elderly patients, such as:
- Installing larger and better signage to guide elderly patients through large facilities
- Providing clear facility maps to elderly patients
- Using lower and wider exam tables to reduce elderly patients’ fears of falling
- Installing automatic doors at both entrances and exits
- Using taller chairs with arms so elderly patients can stand up more easily
In addition, hospital emergency departments can now work to attain geriatric emergency department accreditation. According to the Annals of Emergency Medicine, to achieve accreditation, emergency rooms must meet certain requirements in areas such as staffing and education, as well as implement specific design standards including wheelchair-accessible toilets, non-slip floors, and at least two chairs per patient bed.
Putting Technology to Work
Hospitals also are leveraging technology to improve care for elderly patients. One of the best examples of this is the use of wireless smart beds. According to a report from HealthLeaders, smart beds can monitor elderly patients’ vital signs, like their heart rate or respiratory rate, and alert hospital staff when intervention is needed. Good communication in health care is imperative, and smart beds also can enable nurses to communicate with patients remotely. In addition, Healthcare Innovation noted that smart beds can detect incontinence, allowing nurses to assist patients in a more discrete manner that supports patients’ privacy and helps them maintain their dignity.
Along with smart beds, hospitals also are installing specialized smart televisions designed specifically for health care settings. According to a report in HealthTech, these devices can:
- Allow patients to have video calls with family members
- Offer tailored content that can, for example, help patients with Alzheimer’s disease stay calm while taking medicine or reduce their level of frustration
- Support the use of pillow speakers that improve patients’ ability to hear the television
Hospitals also are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve elderly patients’ health care. For example, Forbes has reported on the use of a diagnostic tool based on AI that can identify elderly patients who are at increased risk of conditions such as urinary tract infections or pneumonia.
The Journal of mHealth also has reported that hospitals can reduce elderly fall rates by using predictive analytics that rely on real-time data of patients’ vital signs and medication intake. Additionally, wearable devices can monitor elderly patients’ hydration, grip strength, and muscle mass to identify those who are at risk of falls.
Implementing New Models of Care
To make broad improvements across the entire scope of health care for the elderly, hospitals are also implementing new models of care. Examples include:
- The Hospital-at-Home Program: Under this model of care, elderly patients receive hospital-level care in their own homes. Program coordinators assign teams of physicians, nurses, and home aides to a specific group of patients, and the members of those teams make visits both in person and through videoconferencing. In addition, this program provides the equipment patients need in their homes for routine treatments such as IV infusions or oxygen therapy. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, when compared with traditional, in-patient care, this home model has resulted in lower costs, fewer hospital readmissions, and higher patient satisfaction.
- The 4Ms Framework: When providers offer health care using the 4Ms Framework, they maintain focus on medication, mentation, mobility, and what matters to elderly patients (the 4Ms). A report in the Journal of Aging and Health noted this model has been shown to enhance person-centered care, reduce the risk of overprescribing medicine, improve patients’ mental state, and strengthen patient mobility while reducing the risk of falls. The 4Ms Framework also can assist with elderly patients’ transitions to new health care settings.
- The Acute Care for Elders (ACE) Program: With a focus on elderly patients with high-need, high-cost health care, ACE integrates all aspects of an elderly patient’s care. These aspects include emergency, acute, ambulatory, home and community-based, and transitional care. Under this model, planning for a patient’s discharge begins when the patient is first admitted to a health care facility. This helps ensure patients will continue to receive the best care throughout the duration of their treatment. The Commonwealth Fund has reported that ACE has reduced health care costs and hospital readmissions.
Strengthening Hospital Care for the Elderly
Providing high-quality, cost-effective health care for elderly patients is a challenge that hospitals will continue to face as the country’s population ages. But innovations in facility design and technology, as well as the development of new health care models, are helping hospitals rise to that challenge and strengthen the quality of care that elderly patients receive.
Individuals who have an interest in improving hospital care and health administration can explore the Regis College online Master of Health Administration degree program. The program prepares students for health care leadership roles by enabling them to view health care administration from business, policy, and patient perspectives.
Explore the program and learn how it can help you make a difference in the future of health care.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, “Hospital at Home Care Reduces Costs, Readmissions, and Complications and Enhances Satisfaction for Elderly Patients”