By Dr. Ross Colt, Medical Director
Telehealth services have been crucial for seniors during the pandemic. Virtual doctors’ visits have allowed many of the people most at risk of death or serious illness from COVID-19 to safely remain at home while taking care of their health. But what about the older adults with cognitive difficulties, or who simply have trouble learning the new technology required for telehealth—the very same individuals who have suffered more from social isolation and depression during the pandemic?
Digital avatar devices from the telehealth company care.coach have been the solution for those patients here at Gary and Mary West PACE. With care.coach, patients are given a one button plug-and-play device that allows them to talk with a captivating avatar, usually in the form of a cute dog or cat, that serves as the face for care.coach’s team of specially trained health advocates, who speak through the avatar. These avatars talk directly to the person, checking in with them, reminding them to take medications, encouraging them to exercise, providing stimulating activities and giving emotional and spiritual support. When necessary, they can directly connect our participants to the West PACE medical team for additional assistance.
Starting in March 2020, West PACE gave care.coach devices to a group of patients we thought might benefit from their use the most. Recently had the privilege of partnering with Kendra Seavey of care.coach to present a case study to CalPACE, the statewide industry organization for PACE healthcare operators in California, demonstrating how digital avatar devices improve health outcomes for seniors who may be more isolated and less technologically inclined.
While starting our participants with these devices wasn’t without its challenges—including Internet connectivity issues in participants’ homes—the results have been overwhelmingly positive. For certain individuals, the need for calls and visits to the local emergency rooms have declined. Telehealth video visits with West PACE have increased, allowing patients to self-manage their health and wellness.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated to West PACE the power of virtual care services to extend the reach and richness of participant-provider interactions. Right now, 28 percent of our participants use care.coach devices at home. We are working on expanding this offering to more older individuals who come to West PACE for comprehensive medical and social services. Even as the pandemic eventually recedes, virtual care offerings to enhance the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of West PACE participants will be critical, as many of them will remain isolated and housebound. The care.coach avatar devices have proven very effective and will continue to be an important part of our care plans at West PACE in the months ahead.
If you or a loved one are 55 or older, live in North County San Diego, and meet state requirements for nursing home level of care, contact us today to see if enrolling in our program is right for you. We also welcome you to schedule a tour of our center. Call 760-280-2230 or email us today.
Dr. Ross Colt is the Medical Director for the Gary and Mary West PACE in San Marcos, CA. He is a Family Physician with more than two decades of full spectrum clinical practice experience, including a deep background in academic medicine and leadership in managed care environments at the regional and national level. A decorated war veteran, Dr. Colt served two combat tours in Iraq and retired after 24 years as an Army Colonel. He currently lives in the Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego with his wife and two teenage children.