Provincial Long Term Care (PLTC) Homes, a privately owned group of five nursing homes in southern Ontario, has announced the rollout of a new app that allows family members and close friends of its residents to tap into the electronic charting system to keep track of how their loved ones are faring.
The app, called HomeWeCare, enables trusted family and friends – with permission from the residents themselves – to remotely check on mood, general health, medication, food, toileting, and many other issues.
“It’s the first time in Canada that this kind of transparency is being offered in nursing homes,” said Colin LeBrun, president and CEO of HomeWeCare, an entrepreneurial company that developed the app. For his part, LeBrun has experience in the pharmacy industry, as well as in digital healthcare solutions.
“There has always been a problem handling the gap between families and residents in long-term care,” said LeBrun. “This lets you see exactly what’s going on. You’re seeing the actual nursing notes. So you see that your mum ate 50 percent of her food, had a bowel movement that day, and took her meds.”
The medical information is pushed daily to the app and provides a snapshot of the previous 24 hours of care while retaining look-back capability. In addition, long-term care providers can use the tool to push other messages to the family, including information about upcoming events, calendars and menus.
PLTC ran a trial of the app for 10 months at four of its sites and found it to be extremely popular with the 20 people who tested it. In particular, it enabled them to check on the health of their family members without having to drop into the home each day or pester staff members over the phone.
“The nurses are often busy and don’t have time for phone calls,” said LeBrun. “And most people have busy lives, working and taking their kids to hockey and soccer. They find it hard to check on their parents in nursing homes.”
Using HomeWeCare, however, enabled the users to check on their parents or loved ones from a remote location. If they spotted something that concerned them in the health record, they could call the nursing home for more information.
HomeWeCare integrates directly with the electronic charting system used at the PLTC nursing homes, a system called PointClickCare. As a result, the user can easily tap into the system from an iPhone or Android phone, tablet or desktop computer.
That gives users a comprehensive picture of what’s happening, as the electronic record charts a wide range of activities, including medications, changes in mood, food and fluids, daily skin observations, personal hygiene and more.
HomeWeCare has struck up a partnership with PointClickCare, of Mississauga, Ont., which is one of the biggest developers and suppliers of electronic health records to the long-term care sector in North America.
Their systems are used in large number of nursing homes and retirement residences across Canada and the United States. In future, LeBrun said the company will also integrate with the records of other vendors.
There is no cost to the nursing home, but HomeWeCare charges the individual users $8.95 per month for the service.
“It’s less than the price of a cup of coffee a day,” said LeBrun.
Of course, use of the system in long-term care centres hinges on the existence of an electronic health record system, something that not all nursing homes and retirement residences are using. However, LeBrun says they’re gradually adopting them, just as hospitals and doctors’ offices have acquired them.
For those that have an electronic charting system, there are benefits to giving record access to family members.
First, it’s a great marketing tool and a way of building public confidence in the nursing home or residence, many of which are privately owned. “If you’re evaluating homes and one of them offers you access to your parent’s records, that might be the deciding factor,” said LeBrun.
As well, the nursing home sector has come under fire in recent years for the quality of care provided to residents. Access to the electronic records allows an easy way of checking on whether medications have been given in the correct fashion, whether meals have been provided and eaten, and that toileting and other tasks have been carried out.
In an upcoming version, HomeWeCare will also offer video, so that an individual can see his mom or dad on a smartphone or computer when talking to them on the device.
“You can really tell if they’re okay when you see them,” said LeBrun.