Home Health Technology Goes Futuristic

Home health care technology is a field that’s poised to explode. Huge players in the tech industry, including General Electric, Philips, and Intel, are getting into the game. Other industries have also taken notice and are counseling their members on how to get a slice of this very lucrative pie – these include consumer electronics professionals and the National Association of Homebuilders. All this means the race is on, to develop and implement ever more dynamic technologies that keep patients safe and well, while they live relatively independently at home (we’ve listed some especially compelling examples below, so keep reading!)

We explored some of the reasons for this trend in an earlier blog post, but there’s one more very important driving factor: Beginning later in 2012, hospitals will face reduced reimbursement rates if they demonstrate high rates of unnecessary hospital readmissions – those defined as occurring within 30 days of a discharge and being directly related to the original complaint. Imagine you were the case manager charged with preventing those readmissions. Wouldn’t you wholeheartedly embrace proven technologies that can monitor patients at home? After all, if you can detect the subtle changes that may indicate an avoidable complication is on the horizon, you can stage a timely intervention.

Technology drives exciting new advances

You’re probably already familiar with home devices that allow diabetics to monitor glucose levels at home, or the equipment that’s used by patients with pacemakers to send electrocardiographic information over the phone to their doctor’s office. Here’s a compilation of some other home health technologies that you may never even have dreamed of!

  • A special telemonitoring scale is helping to keep congestive heart failure patients out of the hospital. Each day, when they step on this scale, it transmits their weight, along with other vital information, to a cardiac nurse, who knows that a sudden increase of three pounds or more is often indicative of excessive fluid build-up in this population.
  • A device no bigger than a coffee maker is programmed to dispense pills on schedule, in a patient’s home, up to six times a day. The personal medication system is linked to the health care provider’s computer system, and triggers an alert if the medication is not taken, so a nurse can follow up.
  • With the QuietCare system, motion sensors allow caregivers to keep a watchful, but minimally intrusive, eye on seniors or disabled people who are living alone. The software learns the resident’s behaviors – every thing from time spent in bed to number of trips made to the refrigerator – and analyses it for deviations from the norm. For example, an increase in time spent in the bathroom may be indicative of a problem. A variety of different kinds of sensors can also be used to help caregivers and family members understand the patient’s changing cognitive and mental abilities.
  • Advanced videoconferencing systems allow patients to receive medical check-ups at home, and get support from caregivers regarding how to best manage a chronic condition – while enabling patients to send vital signs via computer. It’s hoped these innovations will appeal to the patient’s desire for convenience and peace-of-mind – knowing a professional is tracking daily health status without the need for frequent appointments.
  • The Duke Heart Center is giving heart patients access to customized content through a secure Web site – including the ability to view and print their own cardiac images from home. Duke reports it is the first institution to do this, and says the goal is patient engagement.

Continuing studies are needed

As with any new medical intervention, there’s always the question of whether the practice is truly evidence-based. The New York Times reported on a study published by the Department of Veterans Affairs that suggests that home health technologies have the potential both to save money and improve outcomes. Researchers tracked a large population of patients with serious chronic conditions for five years. Those who participated were given devices that recorded and transmitted their vital signs to caregivers – and among these patients, hospital admissions dropped by 19 percent. Average costs per year for telehealth services were dramatically lower ($1600) than providing traditional home-based care ($13,121) or placing the patient in a nursing home ($77,745).

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.