A demographic that universally requires healthcare, the most, is seniors. In US, the baby boomer population of 65+ will rise in coming years, and is estimated to be 21% of the total population by 2040. Healthcare costs will also go up proportionately. From $2.4 trillion in 2008, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare are expecting a rise up to $4.4 trillion in 2018.
Predicted Roadblocks in the Future
If the estimated rise in senior population is accurate, then their future looks uncertain with respect to traditional healthcare methods such as independent living facilities, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and residential living facilities.
Current healthcare systems will not be able to accommodate this statistical rise for three primary reasons -
- Cost - Medicaid and Medicare programs are estimated to spend 7.3% more every year, whereas individual seniors and their families have to pay for uncovered medical expenses. In 2009, 94% people aged 65+ had to pay out of their pockets. It is a major expense for both the Government and individuals.
- Space - Centers will not be able to house the increased number of residents. Additionally, the ratio of personal caregivers to seniors is also expected to decline from 7:1 to 3:1 by 2050.
- Displacement - Seniors have to leave their homes and move to a residential healthcare facility. This puts an emotional and financial strain on them.
Best approach to tackle this issue is for individuals, healthcare service providers, and financial resource spenders to collaborate and reduce healthcare costs in the longer term. All this whilst ensuring reasonable and safe living environments for seniors.Telehealth simplifies and expands the level of remote interaction between seniors and service providers, enabling them to avail services from the comfort of their homes with regular follow-ups and virtual records.Let’s look at some innovative tech solutions that are now being pursued.
Aging in Place
Aging in place means allowing seniors to stay in their homes instead of relocating to a residential healthcare facility, or at most, relocating closer to their family physician. This saves about $2-3 billion annually for Medicaid and Medicare programs.The other advantage is the mental and emotional stability that seniors will get by living under their own roof and their own rules. It allows them to retain the quality of their life, adding to their emotional and consequently physical well-being.
Internet of Caring Things
These are home automation technologies that assist seniors in their daily routine, helping them stay safe and comfortable. These are quite similar to other home automation techniques, like security cameras, smart TVs, etc.There are 2 types of assistive home automation technologies that we will look at
Smart homes are enabled with systems and software that automate daily domestic tasks. In terms of the senior demographic, this home automation concept is called assistive domotics. One form of assistive domotics is Private Health Networks. It makes use of wireless technology and software that connects to devices like phones and stores data. Some examples are:
Motion sensors for lights and thermostats,Indoor cameras,Daily activity trackers that track whether your loved ones have eaten, taken their medication, rested, etc. and sends data to your smartphone,Pill dispensing devices,Reminder clocks that can be set to go off at meal times or medication times,Vital signs trackers that can connect to your phone for storing data such as blood pressure, heart rate, etc.The software component at the backend of these devices ensures that you can connect them to your portable devices and keep tabs on your loved ones.
Digital health is a conflux of various technologies to offer comprehensive healthcare services to seniors. It entails creating a strong network between service providers, receivers, and resource providers. This concept is inclusive of technologies and applications arising out of the assemblage of modern tech, medicine, and genomics.It includes devices and applications like -
- Remote health monitoring devices using wearable technology
- Fall detectors and pressure mats
- Heat and smoke alarms
- Self monitoring devices that send and store data in smartphones
Digital Health aims to simplify healthcare techniques by creating software and devices that enable monitoring health at home. The connectivity aspect helps loved ones or caregivers track theWhereabouts of seniors remotely. This saves doctor’s trips, financial resources, and response time for emergencies.Digital Health as a market is estimated to cross the $200 billion mark by 2020 on a global scale.Let’s take a look at some more healthcare tech solutions that will make life easier for seniors and their caregivers alike.
This involves caring for elders remotely. Non face-to-face consults enable care providers and nurses to communicate virtually. This helps caregivers keep tabs on seniors, ensure their well-being and reduce their loneliness, which leads to better patient care
Apps for Tracking and Follow-ups
Patient portals allow patients to access information regarding healthcare. Applications for tracking health status, past medication, and patient history can help doctors analyze the entire casequickly and make an informed decision, particularly in emergency cases.Let’s look at some examples of consumer health devices that can help physicians, caregivers and patients alike.
Security systems such as secure locks, smart lighting, cameras and alarms must be put in place. If a senior person is living alone or has to be alone in the daytime, they should be able to alert someone in case of a fall, attack, or a break-in. Particularly patients who are prone to epileptic seizures (as an example) must have some mode of alerting an emergency contact or emergency services. Such security systems are now entering the market, and are becoming more advanced.
MedWand is a smart device that has an all-inclusive sensor with a thermometer, camera, stethoscope, heart rate sensor, blood oxygen measure, and disposable speculum. It converts all these numbers into a digital health record for future use by your doctor. Your care provider can view all stats, captured by MedWand, during a private video consultation.
Breakthrough is an online counselling portal with over 1000 certified therapists helping people with a range of psychological issues, such as depression, bereavement, PTSD etc. Seniors can benefit from such counselling if they are staying alone for major part of the day. It is helpful to talk to someone for combatting loneliness and depression.
Proteus Digital Health is an application wherein a patient can track their physiological parameters using a patch. Vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, activity, pulse etc. can be monitored via a paired smartphone, making it easier for caregivers to track vital signs at home. Data is stored in the app, making it easily accessible.
- Tracking costs using digital cost trackers can help hospitals and clinics optimize their resources, track input costs and improve efficiency.
- Chronic care management must be given increased importance. Making patient records readily available to physicians can help them treat chronic patients faster. Apps that integrate this information and make it accessible to any healthcare service provider when needed will save time spent in preliminary checks.
- Technology induced patient care such as audio/video enables patients to communicate with their physicians or nurses from home, reducing instances and costs of hospitalization.
- Self care management software is also useful to reduce hospital trips and consultation costs.
Innovative healthcare solutions are the need of the hour. Rise of smartphones will greatly facilitate smart devices connected to mobile apps for enabling at-home care. This blend of hardware and software will track necessary vitals for both, regular and long-term care. Artificial Intelligence will also take on more ground with the rise of smart homes and digital health. Remote caregiving and home robotics are big innovations in personalizing Human-Computer interactions. These healthcare tech solutions will adapt with the times regarding caregiving facilities for seniors., giving them a better quality of life.