Telehealth Services May Not Provide Significant Benefits for Assisted Living Residents

Aging in place has been increasingly supported by public policies in the United States by allowing frail older adults to remain at home. Policymakers often view assisted living facilities and home healthcare services as more economical and less institutional alternatives to nursing home care. Both home healthcare agencies and assisted living facilities face the challenge of caring for sicker patients with complex medical issues, providing opportunities to services in markets with nursing shortages, and finding efficient means of delivering care. The lack of appropriate nursing care may cause assisted living residents to be relocated to a nursing home when their care needs are not met and consequently increase their vulnerability. One method for assisted living facilities and home healthcare agencies to foster aging in place is to utilize telehealth services to monitor safety and health status remotely.

Qualitative studies have shown the value of telehealth services for housing managers, family members, and nurses. Housing managers are able to obtain objective information to assist them in being proactive about resident risks. Family members can be more assured knowing that their love one is being monitored by nurses to help ensure safety and well-being. Nurses view telehealth services as valuable because of perceived improvements in clinical processes. A recent study showed that the value of telehealth services differs between home healthcare clients and assisted living facility residents. Housing managers who had responded to open-ended questions during focus groups revealed that older adults in assisted living may not see these services as beneficial.

One manager raised the issue of marketing telehealth services to assisted living residents from the resident’s perspective: “Why should I pay for another monitoring program when I thought the staff was going to be here 24 hours a day?” Some managers of assisted living facilities view telehealth services as easier to market to older adults residing at home than to those already in assisted living. “I think that the technology is probably geared for those living at home. They want to stay at home anyway, and it would be great to market that they can stay at home. And, at a certain price it’s [more] affordable to have the technology put in their home than for them to move into assisted living or nursing home.