$1 million grant to help Missouri nursing homes transition from faxing to texting

(The Center Square) – University of Missouri researchers are using a $1 million federal grant to help nursing home staffers transition from fax machines and voicemail to texting.

Kimberly Powell, an assistant professor in the MU School of nursing and the principal investigator for the research project, said an estimated $2.6 billion per year is spent on transferring nursing home residents to hospitals, and 60% of transfers are avoidable. Powell and her team are examining how texting can reduce delays in making care decisions, allow residents to be safely cared for in the nursing home and reduce costly and sometimes traumatic transfers to hospitals.

“We’re trying to implement a system where we are recognizing changes in someone’s condition early enough so the resident can be safely managed where they are,” Powell said to The Center Square. “It’s very stressful to transfer a nursing home resident to the hospital and also for their family and friends. It’s not a good scenario unless there’s no other option, such as a fall or some other acute injury where they need to go to the hospital.”

Nursing home staff often wait for faxes or voicemails to be returned to get directives from physicians, social workers, specialists, therapists, registered nurses and family members of the resident. By the time the staff receives a response, it’s often too late to administer effective assistance. It’s estimated two-thirds of nursing home residents have some form of dementia, which also contributes to delays in treatments.

The three-year grant is funded by the National Institute of Aging, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

Powell will be studying the effectiveness of a secure texting platform used in a previous study by nursing home staff in 16 Missouri facilities. That study was part of the Missouri Quality Improvement Initiative, a $35 million program funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. The initiative also placed full-time advanced practice registered nurses in nursing homes to reduce avoidable hospitalizations.

“Texting is a bit more complicated in the health care environment because we have to worry about patient privacy and the security of data,” Powell said. “But it’s possible. And it is mind blowing as to why we haven’t been doing this all along. But what’s equally shocking is that so many nursing homes are still using fax machines to communicate.”

Reducing avoidable hospitalizations could save millions in taxpayer dollars allocated to pay for Medicaid and Medicare costs. However, Powell’s primary motivation is helping patients.

“My primary interest is in improving the quality of life of nursing home residents, many who are very vulnerable,” Powell said. “Many nursing homes get associated with poor quality of care. So my primary objective is to improve a patient’s quality of life and their outcomes. Cost savings is the icing on the cake.”

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