Editor’s Note:

The Tech Barrier

Providers need to smooth patients’ learning curves for DME — and Medicare.

I’ve always been proud of the fact that my father was an early adopter of technology. Born in 1918, dad was always at the forefront of household innovations.

I can remember when I was in seventh grade, my dad signed up my family to participate in an early household trial of “videotext” services that were a precursor to the Internet. Later, the moment he found out he could manage his retirement funds on a personal computer using spreadsheets, he dove in feet first and had a PC sitting on his desk. Pretty soon, he was using fax-on-demand services to have information sent to his desktop, and the moment the Internet became available to home users, this U.S. Navy vet of the Second World War was off sailing the cyber seas. Heck, when I was an editor of telecommunications magazines, it was my father who convinced me to kick my telephone company to the curb and subscribe to a cable telephony service, instead. In the truest sense of the expression, dad got it, and he got it.

Did I mention that this was a man that, as a child, had blocks of ice delivered to his home by horse cart?

But I’d say my dad was atypical for his age group. I think my mother better illustrates most seniors’ readiness to learn new technology. She’s casually interested in using computers, but at the end of the day, she’d rather visit with friends and family than sit in front of a screen. If she wants to see pictures from relatives, she can always come over to my home, since she’s nearby. So, she regularly pooh-poohs the idea of learning how to go online. I’m guessing that if I didn’t live closer, she might give the computer a whirl, but for now she lives blissfully PC-free.

I think mom would freely admit that technology has outpaced her. It’s not that she’s incapable of using computers (she helped my father on the computer when his eyesight became very poor in his final years, in fact). She could catch up, but the learning curve would be pointlessly steep, and it’s not a necessity.

But for other seniors, adapting to technology trends that can seem almost alien is a necessity. They don’t have a choice. This is especially true of senior homecare patients. In the same way a remote senior might have to learn how to use the Internet in order to start receiving photos of his or her grand kids, senior homecare patients need to understand how to use DME that can be complex for them. Their era’s technological innovations might have been along the lines home radios and air travel. Today, a senior could be diagnosed with COPD, for instance, prescribed oxygen therapy, and handed a portable oxygen concentrator. For anyone who’s young enough to use a smart phone intuitively, a POC isn’t difficult to understand, but for someone who grew up during the Great Depression, it might be a little befuddling.

And this is a spot where HME providers can make a real difference in their patients’ lives. DME confers improved quality of life, and that results in improved patient outcomes. A thorough understanding of how to use their medical equipment ensures that those patients get that enhanced quality of life. HME businesses that are committed to helping patients truly “master” their DME by creating the sorts of education programs that will smooth seniors’ homecare learning curves will give patients a better quality of life, help them achieve those improved outcomes, while building a sterling reputation with referral partners in the process.

And there’s one other homecare lesson providers can help patients understand: why protecting their access to HME is so vital. Those once-befuddling devices that are now their keys to improved quality of life and care are under perpetual threat from Medicare. Teaching seniors how to advocate on behalf of their care and providers might be a lesson of equally vital importance.

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Publisher and Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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