Do you remember the catchphrase from the Life Alert commercials? I’ve fallen and I can’t get up! This ad campaign, for a device that gives the elderly access to emergency services, was the public’s first exposure to the idea of home health monitoring, way back in the ‘80s. Since then, and largely behind the scenes, the range of home health technologies has grown tremendously. Some experts believe the field is poised to virtually explode in the decades ahead – and that it has the potential to address many of the challenges currently facing our health care system.
Factors driving the growth of home health technology
First and foremost is the reality of an aging population. A handful of chronic conditions (heart disease, hypertension, diabetes) account for the majority of medical spending – and these conditions tend to worsen as people get older. In fact, Medicare officials have estimated that a whopping 84 percent of its beneficiaries have at least one chronic condition. As the baby boom generation reaches retirement age and the need to manage chronic diseases expands, the additional demands on the health care system will be enormous. More than ever, there will be a need to counteract some of the challenges presented by an aging population, as well as by workforce shortages and limited health care resources.
Home health technologies – which can include remote monitoring devices and telemedicine – can address many of the inefficiencies that are driving up costs in our current methods of care delivery. These technologies can enhance the case management process and improve the ways in which we manage chronic disease. Simply put, they have the potential to keep people out of the hospital in the first place, and to improve post-discharge care when they have been hospitalized.
The aging in place initiative
There are also social and cultural factors driving the rise of home health technologies. In general, the public has a negative view of nursing homes, and research has confirmed that the health of a frail elderly person deteriorates each time he is moved. People have a strong desire to remain independent – according to the Aging In Place Initiative, 89 percent of those surveyed said they wish to remain in their own homes.
Traditionally, the “aging in place” model has depended on informal care that’s provided by family members, usually women. But this traditional arrangement is being eroded by current cultural trends. Smaller families, greater mobility, and economic pressures for women to hold jobs out side the home have all left fewer inter-generational families with the ability to act as caregivers. It only makes senses to shift to a technology-driven model of aging in place, one that relies on patient self-management, patient engagement, remote monitoring, and interactive communications with medical professionals.
It’s not just the elderly who can benefit
While we’ve focused mainly on the retirement-age population to make our case for home health technologies, there are others who can reap the benefits of a wide range of applications. These include:
- People recovering from an illness or surgery
- People managing a chronic disease
- People with a physical disability who are otherwise healthy
- Caregivers, both formal (professional) and informal (family members) who need medical advice and support
And how does this fast-growing movement affect you and your career? If you’re interested in nursing informatics, there will be opportunities for you to be involved with developing and implementing new home health technologies. Case management skills will also be in demand, as the health care system seeks ways to manage a population of patients who are aging in place at home.
This may be a good time for you to develop new skills and empower yourself with knowledge through an online RN to BSN or RN to MSN degree. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees, including programs that prepare nurses for a specialty in areas like infection control and executive leadership.
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