In the world of connected devices—or the Internet of Things (IoT)—patients are able to maintain their independent lifestyles despite serious illnesses. While at HIMSS15, I had the opportunity to tour the iHome (also known as the Intelligent Medical Home). The 1,800 square-foot iHome housed a middle-aged man with congestive heart failure and his mother recovering from a broken hip (among other health issues)—both of whom required assistance in their homes—and their live-in home healthcare aide.
Home healthcare aides have long been facilitators of independence.
The primary tasks of home healthcare aides are to help the elderly, disabled, or ill remain in their homes by assisting them in activities of daily living. While these activities still include bathing, dressing, housekeeping, and symptom monitoring, technological advances are changing the tasks of home healthcare aides.
The iHome at HIMSS15 was a digital wonderland, with connected mobile devices in each room for remote patient monitoring via sensors, wearables, and communication devices. The layered consumer and medical technologies as well as telemedicine, with increased affordability and awareness, could change the nature of the home healthcare profession as we’ve come to know it.
As part of the iHome tour, we heard about patient stories and witnessed as the mother, son and home healthcare aide (all actors) interacted with the various devices throughout the course of a normal day.
The home healthcare aide performed a few of the functions traditionally associated with her profession, such as wound and vital sign monitoring – but all of it was connected.
If she suspected a wound wasn’t healing properly, she’d snap a picture and send it off for physician review.
Patient weights, carbohydrate intake, blood pressure, glucose level, and activity metrics are recorded at set times of day, and variations that might exacerbate a patient’s condition are brought to the attention of primary care providers.
If these new ways of taking vitals, managing medications, gait monitors, and interactive guides don’t replace the need for home healthcare aides altogether, it seems that the IoT could forever alter the role of the home healthcare aide.
The rise of remote patient monitoring
We’ve come a long way, baby.
Over the last decade, diabetic patients charged by their physicians to count calories and watch their sugar intake have gone from guessing at serving sizes and pen-and-paper journaling to bar-code reading mobile apps that analyze food consumption and alert care providers of potential problems.
Everything from bathroom scales to blood pressure cuffs, and medicine boxes to asthma inhalers can now be digitally connected, and remotely monitored by medical professionals—potentially at a fraction of the cost (i.e., compared to the cost of follow-up appointments for chronic illnesses).
The medical profession acknowledges that long-term data patterns may tell them more about a patient’s health than the snapshot they might get at an office visit. According to Michael DeGeer, DPM, FACPS, FACFAS, vice president of Population Health Management, Agnesian HealthCare,
It is increasingly important that providers are monitoring the whole health of an individual, not just at the point of care in the facility. Remote patient monitoring allows our clinicians to have access to a patient's health data, within the patient’s health record, while they are at home, which will provide the opportunity for clinicians to make informed interventions as needed.
According to marketing and intelligence firm, Tractica, the number of worldwide consumers using home health technology will increase from 14.3 million in 2014 to 78.5 million by 2020. Charul Vyas, principal analyst at Tractica, states:
Key factors driving interest in home healthcare technologies include rising healthcare costs, aging populations, and a rise in the number of people living with chronic diseases. However, significant challenges remain for the industry to solve, including regulatory issues, data security and privacy, and technology interoperability and integration issues.
While I believe it will be some time before the average family can afford to place robotic living assistants in the homes of older generations, these IoT home health technologies may permit better and less expensive home care.
Perhaps the most notable observation in my tour of the iHome wasn’t the technology itself, but the new roles of the home health aide. The aide spent a great deal of her time explaining, facilitating, and monitoring the home’s connected health technologies.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.