As America’s growing elderly population prefers to age in place, families are increasingly relying on home health aides, personal care aides, and nursing assistants for support and hands-on care for their loved ones.

According to The World Bank, approximately 16 percent of the U.S. population today—nearly 52 million people—are aged 65 and older. The U.S. Census Bureau projects this senior population will increase by more than 50 percent over the next 15 years, to nearly 78 million. The number of home health and personal care aide positions is projected to increase much faster than the national average for all occupations, with an expected growth of 1.2 million positions by 2028.

While homecare has expanded over the past decade, caregiver training standards have lagged behind. There are currently no federal training requirements in place for most home care workers, and where they exist, they have not changed since 1987.

As a result of the lack of training standards, there are major disparities in the levels of preparedness in caregivers. Home health training tends to vary by occupation and state. In fact, only five states require more than one week of training before a caregiver can begin their job.

The American Society on Aging reported that a “lack of training and poor supervisory support are associated with higher injury rates, lower job satisfaction, higher turnover, and lower care quality.”

A homecare system is only as effective as its people, and it starts with a well-trained homecare workforce. Aside of establishing comprehensive training standards that address critical skills, Aging Today proposed building a training infrastructure that makes training accessible for diverse populations.

Between 2011 and 2017, Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute refined an approach to training personal care aides that has consistently demonstrated positive results. This was achieved through their Building Training Building Quality (BTBQ) program in Michigan, followed by Quality Care through Quality Jobs (QCQJ) Training Collaborative in Chicago. Their approach, underpinned by adult learner-centered methods, is rooted in the principles of person-centered care, and emphasizes active listening skills, self-management, self-reflection, and collaborative problem-solving.

In July 2017, the Institute released research proving that high-quality training for home care workers improved both job satisfaction and care outcomes.  Caregivers are key members of a patient’s care team, and quality training is critical to maximizing aides’ effectiveness.

Online Training for Home Health Aides Gains Popularity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Advocates who have raised concerns about the quantity and quality of existing home care training programs applaud new educational technologies and innovative approaches that address the issues that have plagued the industry for years, namely costs, educator shortages, and scheduling conflicts.

2018 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report report shows the multi-generational workforce is depending more on online, interactive learning solutions than ever before. And according to LinkedIn’s latest research, many businesses are set to decrease in-person, instructor-led training by 38%, while increasing budgets for online learning by 57%.

While studies dating back to 2016 support online learning approaches to preparing an eldercare workforce, home care agencies had yet to widely adapt and integrate online platforms in their training approach, citing fear of hidden costs, possible job losses, and inconclusive data as their hesitations. However, much of this changed with COVID-19.

Even those who never considered or previously dismissed training for their caregivers turned to online platforms as there was no suspension of training requirements for new caregivers during the pandemic, and the demand for qualified caregivers skyrocketed as many caregivers were either exposed to the virus or needed to stay home to care for their children.

Home health agencies now recognize that online training results in significant savings compared to traditional face-to-face training.  Additionally, available technologies offer the potential to create and implement highly engaging and effective online environments to support a wide variety of learning goals. What’s more, online learning eliminates a “one-size-fits-all” approach, which has been shown to be ineffective. Online platforms whittle down the burden of complying with the ever-changing CMS regulations, and integrations with EMR software automates the process of delivering and verifying caregiver training – previously a tedious manual task of a Compliance Officer.

The Benefits of Online Training

Agencies who have made the switch to online learning say there is no going back. Traditional training is simply no match to the sophistication, simplicity, convenience, and cost-effectiveness of online alternatives.

Most importantly, shifting to online training translates nearly immediately to the quality of patient care delivered. It fits the work and life schedules of overburdened caregivers, providing easy access to meaningful information and the ability to participate in knowledge forums. This means home health aides are now able to look up what they need to know the moment a predicament presents itself, instead of having to wait to get a hold of their supervisor or one of their peers. Learning isn’t limited to instructor presence or oft-forgotten or discarded seminar handouts.

Home health aides are more likely to keep up with their training with less intervention from their agencies as cutting-edge algorithms and automations serve up engaging interactive content coupled with customized learning paths, real-time feedback, and well-timed reminders to home health aides’ emails or text.

Thanks to innovative online training and changing dynamics, it may finally be possible to standardize training across state lines, ultimately allowing more seniors in America an optimal alternative to nursing home care.