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When it comes to skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) in particular and long-term care in general, a human-centered and empathetic approach is not only necessary, it’s obligatory. Putting the needs, constraints, and perspectives of patients first enhances the level of care we’re able to provide. 

Perhaps ironically, it is the integration and adaptation of artificial intelligence (AI) that has demonstrated the biggest potential in improving empathy and compassion in the industry.

It may be counterintuitive, but we’re already seeing a major difference. From Hasbro’s AI cat, which is used to remind patients to take their prescription medications, to Paro, a robotic plush seal designed to provide therapeutic services for dementia patients, we’re seeing how AI can work effectively alongside healthcare professionals to achieve better patient outcomes.

Given our aging population, it is critical that we leverage every opportunity to make treatment more efficient and more effective. AI in senior care is a prime example, and its implementation will lead to greater levels of trust among patients and their families, stronger relationships between care providers and patients, and ultimately, a more empathetic — and more human — level of care.

Minimized Data Fractures and Misinformation

Most healthcare facilities utilize digitized data to streamline care, but the time constraints of integrating these systems and educating staff members on how to use them can be major pain points, especially for long-term care centers.

To prevent data isolation and fragmentation, AI can be used to merge patient data for the sake of composing a more thorough and accurate look at an individual’s health records. With all this data available, AI can also conduct analyses that assess patient risk levels, predict potential developments, and in some cases, even recommend treatments

Automated data analysis provides healthcare staff with the information they need to fully personalize patient care in a way that would be all but impossible without the assistance of AI.

Lower Strain, Higher Value

High turnover rates have been a problem in the long-term care industry for quite some time now. These facilities have a constant need for nurses and nursing assistants, which has increased tenfold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, nurses are overworked.

This doesn’t only affect the mental well-being of healthcare employees, it results in limited opportunities for individualized patient care. 

AI can also help on this front. Improved technology reduces the amount of time and energy staff members must exert to manage administrative tasks, thereby allowing them to focus on the more human-centered aspects of their roles. Automating tasks such as scheduling and billing frees up nurses’ availability and gives them more opportunities to engage with patients in a one-on-one setting, which results in better patient care.

When nurses spend more quality time with their patients, they are more attuned to patient concerns and pain points, allowing them the opportunity to suggest and implement meaningful changes that improve the patient experience.

Offering a Social Outlet

SNFs are relying on artificial intelligence more than ever in the pandemic. With residents spending reduced time outside of their rooms and following restrictions on family visitations, senior isolation is becoming a growing concern. But long-term care centers are using digitization to their advantage.

While community events have been placed on hold to help flatten COVID-19’s second curve, AI has now become a social outlet for residents. Some facilities are using mobile robotic telepresence (MRT) systems, which are essentially video screens on wheels that allow video communication with the outside world. Before, a family member may have only visited the center a few times a week, but MRT systems allow for more consistent interactions between residents and loved ones — and are more personal than a phone call or Facetime call.

Similarly, robotic ‘pets’ are also helping to stave off feelings of loneliness, while also helping to enhance patient care at the same time. One example is Tombot, a puppy-like prototype, which was created to reduce depression and anxiety among dementia patients. Its head movements, facial expressions, and wagging tail feel very similar to the real thing, making residents feel as if they have their own personal pet to care for. 

In a time where residents aren’t able to socialize with one another, having access to a robotic pet or being able to speak to family members more regularly can make all the difference.

The Internet of Things and SMART Care

The interconnectedness of the Internet of Things (IoT) is ideal for the long-term care environment. By connecting data-gathering technology (such as wearable tech), analytical AI programs, and human care providers, IoT can facilitate significant improvements to patient care and general practices.

There are five key areas where the combination of IoT and AI technology can improve senior care in practical and empathetic ways; these include safety, mental/physical health, activity, rest, and togetherness, culminating in the acronym SMART. Automated sensors not only document key vitals to monitor patient health, they can also track patient movement to prevent isolation and injury.

With IoT, senior care centers can better account for patient health and wellness while also promoting an increased sense of community through technological interconnectivity. And by automating the documentation, organization, and analysis of critical data, AI and IoT technology will promote more effective and empathetic patient care.

We are steadily shifting away from the paternalistic model of healthcare, in which the patient-provider relationship is built around the provider’s medical expertise alone, and rapidly adopting a more empathetic and collaborative experience where the patient’s input is vital to the treatment they receive. 

The integration of AI in making senior care more human is just one way that this shift is being realized. Through automation, caregivers are able to reduce the risk of inaccurate data analysis, provide more efficient and effective care, increase their trustworthiness, and focus more on addressing the needs and concerns of their patients.

Bent Philipson