About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.
How can the healthcare industry use technology to improve home care for American seniors?
Essay response by Rosslyn Poole
The elderly, people with disabilities, and patients suffering from chronic diseases and comorbidities usually prefer homecare settings that do not compromise their independence and which safeguards their dignity (Sixsmith and Gutman). Similarly, due to limited healthcare human resources, case management systems prioritize on focusing staff to those patients facing the most difficult health complexities and who use hospital facilities most intensively. For this reason, there is increased reliance and hope in new technologies that will assist in resource intensive healthcare management that utilize Automated Home Monitoring (AHM) systems. These remote patient monitoring and management systems allow homecare professionals, support staff, and patients’ families to maintain contact with patients, assess needs, counsel caregivers, and provide education while cutting down on commuting and travel times. There are endless possibilities on how existing and emerging technologies can be used to positively impact in-home care for seniors in the US (Garside).
Reduced Hospitalization Rates
According to a report by the Specialized Primary and Networked Care in Heart Failure (Span-CHF) program, AHM systems can decrease hospitalization rates by more than 72% for heart failure patients and by 63% for patients with cardiac problems (Garside). The same technologies applied to senior citizens enables them spend more time in their own homes without having to commit them into nursing homes. Additionally, the electronic reports assist healthcare professionals provide actively managed short hospital stays with significantly lowered patient admission rates and quick discharges to a range of step-down care options. Technology is already being used in patient multidisciplinary case management to alert relevant caregivers and activate interventions when vital signs and other patient measurements breach certain pre-determined thresholds. For instance, there are technological tools that alert the GP when a diabetic senior citizen’s blood sugar exceeds a level of say, HbA1c>9 (Sixsmith and Gutman).
Shared Data for Improved Integration
Senior citizens usually have to visit multiple caregivers for different needs, with each caregiver maintaining a different set of records (Encarnação, Azevedo and Gelderblom). This results in a fragmented and disjointed care plan. New technologies can be used to maintain unified electronic records for anything from sugar levels, renal failure, or heart rates and all these information can be stored and accessed from a single comprehensive database. Moreover, these integrated records can be used by caregivers to identify associated issues such as drug interactions, allergies, patient preferences, and end of life decisions (Encarnação, Azevedo and Gelderblom). This also helps practitioners identify related health issues, avoid repeat investigations, make more accurate diagnoses, and get timely practice alerts which are directly linked to the underlying evidence. Improved integration means the patient will receive better quality, personalized, and well coordinated patient-centric care.
The use of talking bottles and electronic prompts that remind a patient to take their proper dosage on time or refill their prescription is a useful tool for forgetful elderly patients. The use of secure emails that communicate patient medicine prescription needs, monitoring, and patience compliance can greatly improve patient-practitioner interaction whilst reducing GP visits. . Research and development teams are also examining the use of smart pills that collect and transmit data from within a patient’s body to the relevant healthcare teams (Dietz, Nef and Rymer).
Assisted Daily Living
Assistive electronic technologies can be used for activities for daily living to help seniors manage their homes, their personal environments, and their health conditions without the active intervention of a human caregiver (Gierach and Stindt). Electronic Aids to Daily Living (EADL) can enable patients with cognitive limitations, motor problems, and limited mobility to have better control of their environment. Some of the Electronic Aids to Daily Living technologies for self-care and mealtimes include:
- Electronic eating aids
- Voice-activated household appliances
- Large keypad communication gadgets
- Toileting aids
- Electronic feeders
- Laundry and cleaning robots
- Electronic shopping assistants
Consumer health is a growing market, with over 2,000 smart phone health-related apps selling direct to the consumer. There are wearable gadgets measuring vital signs and wirelessly transmitting patient info across different platforms (Pons, Torricelli and Pajaro). In-home care practitioners can harness such technology to design care solutions that fit into proper care processes for seniors. These and many other exciting innovations can lead to high quality, non-intrusive, home-based care for seniors who are still able to function independently. The healthcare industry should act fast to adopt technologies that reduce costs of in-home care, promote rapid response to emergencies, and enable seniors live independent, productive, and dignified lives (The Joint Commission).
Rosslyn recently registered for classes at University of Houston Clear Lake, and is currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Science.