Integrating Technology and Human Connection in U.S. Veterans’ Health Care | By Dr Amy Hester, PhD, RN, BC, FAAN, Chairwoman and CEO, HD Nursing

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Dr Amy Hester: Integrating Technology and Human Connection in U.S. Veterans’ Health Care
Dr Amy Hester, PhD, RN, BC, FAAN, Chairwoman and CEO, HD Nursing

Summation

  • Today, healthcare providers are truly anchors in falls prevention, highlighting the importance of a balanced approach that integrates technological advancements with a deep understanding of the individual needs and challenges faced by veterans.
  • A significant portion, approximately 49 percent, of the veteran population is over the age of 65, necessitating a proactive approach in reducing fall-related injuries.
  • Less than half report these incidents to their doctors, and falls often instill a fear of recurrence, reducing activity levels and increasing the risk of further falls due to decreased strength.

Dr Amy Hester On U.S. Veterans’ Health Care

The story of American veterans, etched with bravery and resilience, encounters a new chapter as these heroes age. Despite their remarkable strength and courage, the menace of falls looms large. Within the expansive community of 20 million U.S. veterans, a complex paradox emerges: a population renowned for its robust and active lifestyle faces an escalating risk of falls as they grow older.

Healthcare, especially in the realm of veteran care, has undergone a significant transformation over the years.1 Technological advancements have revolutionized healthcare administration, offering tremendous benefits in diagnostics, treatment and patient care.

However, while technology has brought about incredible advancements, an essential aspect must not be overlooked—integrating a human touch in healthcare delivery, particularly in the context of falls prevention among veterans.

Veterans and Falls: A Growing Concern and Persistent Challenge

The rising prevalence of falls among the veteran population is a growing concern. Despite their historical activity and relative health, the risk of falls increases with age. Research indicates that veterans experience more frequent minor falls but fewer severe ones compared to their older adult counterparts.2

A significant portion, approximately 49 percent, of the veteran population is over the age of 65, necessitating a proactive approach in reducing fall-related injuries.3 Each year, more than 25 percent of individuals aged 65 and above experience a fall, doubling their chances of falling again if it occurs once.

Falls result in serious injuries, including fractures and head injuries. Annually, three million seniors are treated in emergency departments due to fall injuries, with 800,000 requiring hospitalizations. Hip fractures, a common consequence, affect over 300,000 seniors yearly. Falls also constitute the primary cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).4

This unique risk profile requires a thorough examination of factors contributing to the heightened vulnerability to falls, emphasizing the imperative development of much-needed effective preventive strategies.

Efforts to curtail fall-related injuries have been longstanding, yet practical implementation remains a persistent hurdle. Relying on self-reported falls, often underrepresented, underscores the importance of comprehensive clinical assessments. Less than half report these incidents to their doctors, and falls often instill a fear of recurrence, reducing activity levels and increasing the risk of further falls due to decreased strength.

For veterans facing disabilities, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), or amputations, the road to falls prevention becomes even more complex. Integrating the human touch into technological solutions demands a deeper understanding of their unique challenges and requirements.

Addressing these nuanced challenges entails a multidisciplinary approach that integrates technological advancements with a profound understanding of the individual circumstances of each veteran. It is the adaptability and personalization of these solutions that truly define efficacy in falls prevention within this diverse veteran community.

Providers’ Role: A Critical Anchor in Falls Prevention

Various factors contribute to falling, including lower body weakness, mobility issues, certain medications, vision problems, foot pain and hazardous home environments. Most falls result from a combination of these factors, emphasizing the importance of addressing multiple risk elements to prevent falls.

Healthcare providers, as the frontline of falls prevention, play a pivotal role in identifying and addressing falls risks. Comprehensive assessments, personalized exercise recommendations, regular check-ups and home safety modifications constitute the bedrock of an integrated approach to falls prevention.

Today, healthcare providers are truly anchors in falls prevention, highlighting the importance of a balanced approach that integrates technological advancements with a deep understanding of the individual needs and challenges faced by veterans. It is this level of personalized care provided by healthcare practitioners that forms the bridge between technology and humanity in falls prevention strategies.

Technology’s Role: Real-time Insights and Beyond

The integration of technology and healthcare unveils an array of tools providing data-driven insights. AI, among various other technological advancements, offers new options for healthcare practitioners, although the impact of the application of AI in falls prevention is yet to be established.

Technology, such as wearable devices or remote monitoring, provides real-time data analytics and predictive insights, enabling evidence-based decision-making in creating interventions based on individual needs.

Nevertheless, the challenge lies in ensuring the tools and solutions are accessible and user-friendly for veterans, encompassing their specific comfort levels and needs. The significance of personalization and integration of these tools with empathetic care cannot be overstated in their application.

Technology in healthcare is not just about innovative solutions; it is about tailoring these advancements to the individual preferences and capabilities of the patient. The fusion of these tools with the human element amplifies their impact across healthcare needs and falls prevention strategies.

Human Touch: A Fundamental Element in Healthcare

The multifaceted challenges veterans encounter, including loneliness, depression and various social determinants of health, amplify the significance of a compassionate approach.5 Human connections remain the cornerstone of healthcare for veterans, guiding and shaping interventions in falls prevention that resonate with their unique experiences and challenges.

The significance of the human connection goes beyond physical care. Emotional support and addressing mental health challenges are equally critical in falls prevention. A compassionate and personalized approach can significantly impact the engagement and adherence of veterans to falls prevention strategies.

Understanding the unique experiences and challenges faced by these individuals provides a supportive and empathetic healthcare environment that stands to improve outcomes.

Falls Prevention Programs: Where Tech Meets Care

In the pursuit of enhancing patient safety and elevating healthcare outcomes, falls prevention programs emerge as a pivotal intersection of technology and compassionate care. To deliver consistent quality care in complex situations, programs must be designed utilizing standardized protocols grounded in evidence-based practices.

Data-driven methodologies fortify healthcare providers in safeguarding patients from fall-related injuries. By collecting and analyzing injury-related data, healthcare organizations gain insights into vulnerabilities, enabling the strategic implementation of preventive measures. This approach not only identifies risks but also establishes a framework for ongoing assessment and intervention evaluation.

The implementation of comprehensive patient safety initiatives and active engagement with leadership teams ensures a cohesive and responsive organizational strategy in falls prevention. Integrating evidence-based and scientifically validated fall assessment tools empowers healthcare providers to predict patient risk accurately. The validation of these interventions through real-world applications ensures their ongoing effectiveness, creating a dynamic and responsive approach to falls prevention.

Beyond the technical realm, the union of technology and a human-centric approach takes center stage in protecting veterans from falls. These tailored preventive strategies extend beyond fall prevention, striving to cultivate a sense of security and support for aging veterans.

Vital Grounds for Falls Prevention

Healthcare institutions stand as crucial settings where falls prevention strategies are implemented. With many fall-related incidents observed within these environments, the onus lies in implementing comprehensive preventive measures.

Enhancing care quality and curbing expenses become essential in these settings, calling for a blend of technological precision and empathetic care to ensure a safe environment for veterans. The adoption of comprehensive falls prevention strategies within healthcare settings not only relies upon technological tools but also on the institutional culture that values the human touch.

The Symbiosis of Humanity and Technology

In the realm of veteran healthcare, fall prevention is a battleground where technology and human compassion merge. While technological strides offer immense benefits, it is the integration of these advancements with empathetic and personalized care that ensures a comprehensive approach to fall prevention, particularly among veterans.

The synergy between evidence-based intervention and a personalized touch is pivotal in optimizing fall prevention strategies. The evidence offers a foundation, while the personalized approach ensures that the interventions are not just theoretically effective but also practically feasible and engaging for aging veterans.

The integration allows for a more targeted and tailored approach to falls prevention, leveraging technology to gather and interpret data and using a personalized touch to translate this information into actionable, individualized interventions.

References

  1. Kizer, K. W., & Dudley, R. A. (2009, April 21). Extreme makeover: Transformation of the veterans health care system. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19296778/
  2. Quigley, Patricia A, et al. “Veterans’ Fall Risk Profile: A Prevalence Study.” Clinical Interventions in Aging, vol. 1, no. 2, Apr. 2006, pp. 169–173, https://doi.org/10.2147/ciia.2006.1.2.169. Accessed 15 Feb. 2020.
  3. Iriondo, Julie . “Census Bureau Releases New Report on Aging Veterans.” United States Census Bureau, United States Census Bureau, 18 July 2023, www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2023/aging-veterans.html#:~:text=The%20report%2C%20Aging%20Veterans%3A%20America’s,were%2065%20years%20or%20older. Accessed 1 Nov. 2023.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, April 20). Get the facts about TBI. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html#:~:text=People%20most%20commonly%20get%20TBIs,of%20the%20TBI%2Drelated%20hospitalizations&text=Firearm%2Drelated%20suicide%20is%20the,deaths%20in%20the%20United%20States
  5. Stein, Jacob Y., et al. “Psychiatric Distress among Aging Decorated and Non-Decorated Veterans: The Role of Impostorism and Loneliness.” Aging & Mental Health, vol. 24, no. 4, 2 Apr. 2019, pp. 582–590, https://doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2019.1594164. Accessed 7 Oct. 2020.

About Dr. Amy Hester, PhD, RN, BC, FAAN, Chairwoman and CEO, HD Nursing.
Amy has 25 years of nursing experience including over a decade of med/surge and neuro nursing followed by unit management and hospital administration. In 2015, she earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Science and has since published and spoken extensively on the subject of falls and injury prediction and prevention. She retired from UAMS in 2018 after 26 years of service to dedicate her time fully to HD Nursing. She is adjunct faculty at UAMS College of Nursing. As an entrepreneur, she mentors others to help them with their own endeavors. Amy also serves as the Chair of the HD Nursing Board of Directors.