How Healthcare Uses Innovation to Help Seniors Age Independently

Farma Darya

Advocate Aurora Enterprises, the innovation subsidiary of Milwaukee-based Advocate Aurora Health, is building a portfolio of companies and programs aimed at helping seniors live longer, healthier lives at home.

The fastest-growing population in the US are seniors, and they’re very much interested in staying healthy longer and staying at home. With that in mind, healthcare organizations are developing care management programs that allow seniors to age independently, and they’re researching and investing in programs that improve home-based care, including telehealth and digital health.

As vice president of strategy and analytics, Sheetal Sobti leads the aging independently category for Advocate Aurora Enterprises, a subsidiary of Milwaukee-based Advocate Aurora Health that advances innovative solutions to address people’s broader health needs. In her role, she is responsible for building a portfolio of health and wellness companies that enables seniors to thrive independently, comfortably and affordably in their homes.

She recently sat down with HealthLeaders to talk about how Advocate Aurora Enterprises selects companies to add to its portfolio, and how those companies complement a strategy of helping older adults age independently.

HealthLeaders: How can innovative new technology or services be used to help seniors stay at home, rather than moving into a senior living facility?

Sheetal Sobti: We’ve found that most seniors want to stay in a familiar environment—oftentimes it’s where they raised their families, and where they have friends and family in the community. For many older adults, having the comforts of home prevents social isolation, which can negatively impact physical and mental health. There’s also a financial benefit to aging in place, since senior living facilities can be expensive.

However, many older adults end up having to live with family or move into a senior living facility because an adverse event happens in the home—they fall, or they just can’t get their needs met. If we can help keep them safe, that ensures they can stay home longer and be more comfortable.

Sheetal Sobti, vice president of strategy and analytics, Advocate Aurora Enterprises. Photo courtesy Advocate Aurora Enterprises.

That’s why Advocate Aurora Enterprises invested in Senior Helpers, which connects seniors to caregivers who help with activities of daily living like getting in and out of the shower or up and down the stairs. Now, with the addition of MobileHelp, we’re infusing our service portfolio with technology to provide an additional layer of safety and security to offer seniors and their family members greater peace of mind.

Q: How does Advocate Aurora Enterprises evaluate technology or services to support? What do you look for and, perhaps, what do you look to avoid?

Sobti: Our goal is to continue assembling a portfolio of innovative health and wellness solutions that help people live well at every stage of life, while also diversifying our revenue. When it comes to the aging independently [landscape], we look at the types of solutions that seniors and their family caregivers are purchasing. We ask, how can we make their lives easier?

Then we leverage our clinical expertise, which includes connecting such solutions to the broader continuum of care. We look at what’s happening when seniors are sick, in addition to what’s happening when they’re well. We complete the picture by connecting traditional home healthcare offerings, as well as our expertise in managing utilization and risk, with technology and services that compliment clinical care.

As far as what we would avoid, that might include anything that falls within Advocate Aurora Health’s core clinical purview.

Q. How are healthcare providers addressed with these products or companies? Do you look for technology or services that integrate with the primary care provider or the local health system?

Sobti: We really like the idea of using technology to connect medical professionals with services that could benefit their patients.

Last year we invested in Xealth, a platform that connects providers with an array of solutions to help patients reach their health and wellness goals. In a way, Xealth is a key enabler of our portfolio, helping achieve synergies between solutions and providers. For example, in the future if a clinician is discharging a patient who says they don’t have someone at home to help with their medication or prepare meals, that clinician could use a platform like Xealth to identify a temporary need for caregiving services like those provided by Senior Helpers.

Q. What are the challenges or barriers to adopting innovative new technology or strategies?

Sobti: It’s a big change—not just for consumers but also for health systems. But there’s a greater readiness in the post-COVID world.

Health systems today are competing in the same space as fast-moving technology companies that have far more capital, wider consumer bases and, frankly, more in-depth knowledge of consumers and their purchasing power. On the flip side, health systems have clinical expertise and trusting relationships with consumers. Things are constantly evolving and there’s a need to meet consumers where they’re at.

Q. How does Advocate Aurora Enterprises help the Advocate Aurora health system? Does the health system identify healthcare trends to pursue or test out promising new technologies or services?

Sobti: We’ve done a lot of research on market trends and solutions that complement clinical care to advance whole person health. That’s how Advocate Aurora Enterprises identified its three key areas of focus: aging independently, family development and support, and personal wellness.

Part of the reason we exist is to help broaden Advocate Aurora Health’s business portfolio at a time when health systems across the country are navigating broad industry challenges, from stagnant reimbursement rates to increased competition. And we share a purpose of helping people live well. So there likely will be times when the health system chooses to offer the proven solutions that Advocate Aurora Enterprises invests in or acquires.

Q. What new technologies or strategies are you looking at now? What’s on the horizon for healthcare innovation?

Sobti: On the heels of our MobileHelp acquisition, our focus is on integration and identifying synergies that make it even easier for seniors to age in place. We’re excited about the opportunity to bundle Senior Helpers’ in-home personal care services with MobileHelp’s personal emergency response systems and remote patient monitoring capabilities.

We’ll continue looking at solutions that keep people safely in their homes, while also alleviating the burden on family caregivers. And we’ll stay focused on broadening the continuum of care to help people live well at every stage of life.

Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.

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