Explore the expanding role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the field of eldercare, with a...
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Can smart technologies help provide efficient care for older adults?| Written by: Eunice Yang, PhD.
We use technology in nearly all aspects of our lives - work, home and even our health. It seems as though nearly everything in our homes and on our bodies are now "smart," monitoring how things are going and working toward better results.
Health-oriented, smart devices have experienced tremendous growth in popularity over the past few years, both at home and in clinical settings. For example, a wearable thermometer patch that sends temperature signals to your doctor automatically. Another example for professional health care workers would be an electrocardiogram patch that let them know of problematic heart rate trends so preventive treatment plans to circumvent various cardiovascular diseases can be made.
Despite the growth in smart devices used for health and wellness, one area where technology is used less often is caregiving. In this blog, we explore how smart technologies help caregivers deliver care efficiently:
- What does "smart" technology mean?
- How can smart technology help caregivers?
- How can smart technology help prioritize care?
- How important is using smart technology in our society?
What does “smart” technology mean?
Smart technology can include wearable medical devices such as heart rate monitors, blood pressure sensors, and glucose meters that stream data directly to your doctor's office or smartphone. "Smart" is an umbrella term, covering everything from artificial intelligence to sensors that can be used in monitoring an individual’s health with minimal involvement from an individual.
Smart technology is the technology that can continually learn from experience, gather data, and apply the knowledge in real-time. In healthcare, this means using information from devices, apps, and wearables to continuously improve medications, treatments, and disease diagnoses. It makes it possible to self-manage symptoms and also makes it easier for doctors to identify problems as they develop before they become serious.
Technology Highlight: Health Care of America (HCA) SPOT
According to the CDC, sepsis happens when an infection you already have - in your skin, lungs, urinary tract, or somewhere else - triggers a life-threatening chain reaction through your body. "Because there is no confirmatory diagnostic test, the diagnosis of sepsis requires clinical judgment based on evidence of infection and organ dysfunction."
HCA SPOT Sepsis is a highly-accurate web-based tool that enables healthcare professionals to quickly assess sepsis risk and provides actionable guidance for appropriate care. It is an easy-to-use, mobile technology tool that can help clinicians make the right choices in the early identification of sepsis.
How can smart technologies help caregivers?
The most common problem for caregivers is the burden of care. There are 18 million professional care workers and 68 million family caregivers in the US. Smart technologies for caregivers aim to lower the burden of care, increase care efficiency, and so better health outcomes can be achieved. There are a number of technologies being developed for seniors and their caregivers.
Wearable technology is becoming more common among senior citizens and can be used to monitor daily activities such as steps taken and sleep patterns. This allows doctors and caregivers to monitor health status more closely, which can lead to better diagnoses and faster treatment of illnesses. Some devices focus on helping caregivers who assist seniors with memory problems and are prone to wandering. GPS trackers located within a watch or worn on the clothing provide caregivers GPS information within buildings or in the community.
As more and more Americans have a desire to age in place, keeping safe has become an important factor. Smart home technology is enabling seniors to age in place and provide their families peace of mind. Technologies that automatically control lights, temperature, locks, and other features within a home can help seniors live independently longer. Smart home safety technologies are dominated by Google, Amazon, and Apple. Here are some of their products:
- Google Home - A collection of smart devices including lighting, thermostat and energy, security, and appliances. Integrated with software that automatically learns the senior's daily habits and adjusts accordingly.
- Amazon Smart Home - Audio and video systems that enable caregivers to connect with older adults easily. Their collection of devices also includes lighting, smart door locks, outlets, temperatures, water systems, and more.
- Apple Homekit - an iOS app that connects to a lighting system, video cameras, door locks, home water systems, and more.
These devices allow caregivers to remotely monitor when medications are taken by their loved ones. Some even connect with insulin pumps or blood pressure monitors which automatically dispense medication at preset times or if certain criteria like blood sugar levels or blood pressure readings meet predetermined thresholds set by doctors or nurses. They also have a feature where users can manually press a button if they need assistance taking their pills (elderly people often have trouble swallowing pills). This can alert family members or other caregivers who can then check up on them and make sure they're okay.
Technology Highlight: Smart technology helping diabetics
According to the CDC, diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.
In 2017, IBM Watson Health announced an artificial intelligence collaboration with DexCom Inc., a maker of continuous glucose monitoring systems (CGMs). The AI software looks for patterns in the data collected by CGMs to determine whether a patient needs immediate attention. The goal was to develop a predictive algorithm using artificial intelligence technology that would automatically alert a patient's doctor when their blood sugar levels were too high or too low without requiring any input from the patient or doctor.
My friend's 7-year-old daughter, diagnosed with childhood diabetes, has been using DexCom for about two years. When asked what she thought of DexCom? Her response was “I couldn’t live without it! It gives me peace of mind knowing that my daughter is safe.”
DexCom and the technology behind it have been a game-changer in enabling consumers to have a better quality of life.
How can smart technology help prioritize care?
The digital health revolution is upon us. From wearables to apps, from virtual assistants to digital health assistants, the world is changing. Smart technology can help healthcare providers to identify problems before it has a chance to get worse. Here are a few ways it can be used to prioritize care:
- Smartphones can be used to take vital signs and collect data on patients remotely.
- Digital assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home can provide information about symptoms and medical conditions as well as direct users to relevant information or resources in response to voice commands.
- Digital health assistants like Apple HealthKit and Fitbit's Aria Air smart scale can collect data on patients' weight, body fat percentage, and blood pressure — among other things — which can then be analyzed by doctors to provide personalized feedback on their health status.
- Wearable activity trackers such as those from Fitbit, Apple Watch, Samsung, and Garmin offer heart rate monitoring, physical activities, and features that enable physicians to identify potential problems before they become serious issues.
- Sleep trackers like SleepScore Max use advanced technology like electroencephalography (EEG) sensors that track brain waves during sleep cycles to determine how much rest someone needs each night.
Technology Highlight: Smart technology that manages pressure injuries
An example of this can be seen in Leaf (a Smith+Nephew, Inc product), a wearable device that monitors pressure injury prevention. It uses a sensor to detect when a patient has been in an orientation for too long, which can cause a pressure injury. The Leaf system uses wireless technologies to connect the wearable sensors to the cloud and alert caregivers when a patient has been in one position for too long. With a quick glance at the dashboard, caregivers can easily prioritize care.
How important is using smart technology to our society?
Smart technology can help improve healthcare delivery and outcomes, which can have a positive effect on the economy. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 10 people worldwide have no access to medical care and an additional 2.6 billion people do not receive the essential care they need. Smart technology can help improve this situation by providing timely and accurate information about disease outbreaks or epidemics, allowing for early detection and treatment of illnesses. For example, if there is a surge of COVID-19 in California, smart technology could be used to track cases and notify community members about how they can protect themselves.
The health care system is currently experiencing a number of challenging issues, perhaps the biggest being cost. Health care spending now consumes more than 18 percent of GDP and costs continue to outpace inflation. According to McKinsey and Company, a global management consulting firm used by corporations and governments, $350 billion to $410 billion in value can be created by 2025 through technologies that take advantage of the following areas:
- Effective care delivery through the use of wearables, devices, and tele-healthcare.
- Enhanced clinical productivity using artificial intelligence to identify diseases and gaps in care.
- Variability and waste reduction in operations such as low-value procedures and fraud.
- Nonclinical efficiency by automating work using analytics and artificial intelligence.
- Consumer-focused site care such as in outpatient facilities and in homes.
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