Passive Monitoring May Reduce Patient Care Costs in Assisted Living, Home Health

Wellness technology, such as digital blood pressure monitors and electronic emergency alert systems, has been around for many years. But even with these advances that make caring for elderly and disabled persons simpler, the cost of monitoring and caring for patients in assisted living facilities and home care settings steadily increases. A new wave of technology may soon be entering the market that has proven to reduce care costs and promote aging in place: Think underwear equipped with blood pressure monitors and pills and capsules with microchips that send a message to indicate whether a patient has taken a medication. Wellness technology improves patient monitoring

Robin Felder, associate director of clinical chemistry and toxicology at the University of Virginia, advocates for the use of what she has dubbed “passive” technology for patient monitoring, citing a 2007 publication in the Journal of Telemedicine and e-Health which showed a staggering 74 percent reduction in the cost of caring for assisted living residents with the use of these devices. According to Felder, the key to the success of passive monitoring devices is that unlike current mainstream gadgets, such as automatic blood pressure monitors, passive devices don’t require any thought or effort on behalf of the patient or caregiver.

Felder says that the majority of blood pressure monitors (95 percent) go unused and stashed away in a drawer or closet. The reason, notes Felder, is that while they’re simpler to use, patients still have to interrupt their activities to use them. Felder spoke during a “Views from the Top” session at last week’s HIMSS conference, where she introduced a number of innovative technologies and products that will make wireless patient wellness monitoring (which Felder calls “wellness support”) a  more realistic possibility:

  • Everyday garments–yes, even your underwear–could function as blood pressure monitors and pulse sensors.
  • Digestible microchips in tablets and pills (that will cost pharmaceutical companies about one cent each) to indicate whether a patient has taken the medication as well as provide data such as stomach pH and other vitals. If that’s not enough, this little chip will transmit the readings to a cell phone using Blueooth technology.
  • Contact lenses and other eye inserts will have the capability to monitor glucose levels in tears in diabetic patients. These gadgets cost about a dime each.
  • Everyday bathroom fixtures will measure your weight, body temperature and other vital signs. No more hiding from the scale!

All of the information gathered through these various devices will be integrated into a patient’s health and wellness records, providing a basis for targeted information to help patients lead healthy lifestyles. Felder terms this the “Medical Cloud,” or the concept of integrating multiple sources of data for multiple clinicians to collectively manage and monitor patients aging  at home, in assisted living facilities or other community-based long-term care facilities.

Read the related article at MobiHealthNews.

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12 Responses to “Passive Monitoring May Reduce Patient Care Costs in Assisted Living, Home Health”

  1. This is so refreshing to read articles like this. While it seems obvious that the use of enabling technologies would save costs, make physical staff members more effective, spread the care (or as we say at GrandCare, “Share the Care”) and give caregivers a larger “picture” of information…it is vital that we have some sort of proof!!! :)

    Imagine this, an independent living facility that has a few non-obtrusive activity and telewellness sensors in each apartment home. If a resident’s door opens during the middle of the night, a caregiving staff can be alerted to go in and check on a potential wandering situation. Perhaps a resident is likely to fall IF he/she gets up to use the restroom during the night. Rather than performing RANDOM check-ins, staff can ONLY be alerted IF that person did, indeed, get out of bed to go and assist. Imagine if a resident takes his weight every day and if certain parameters are met (excessive weight gain, etc) the nursing staff can automatically receive phone/email alerts. Wake-up calls would no longer be needed…staff could be alerted if a resident did NOT get out bed in the morning, or if he/she didn’t leave the room for a meal, etc…
    So many possibilities and a technology like GrandCare Systems combines remote activity of daily living monitoring, smart home technology, cognitive assists, brain fitness, 2-way video chat, social networking for Seniors, tele-health monitoring and more..

    There are many many technologies represented by the new Aging Technology Industry Alliance – (A not for profit one stop shop for tech)

    thank you for posting this very encouraging article!!!!!!

  2. Angela Stringfellow says:

    Thanks for your comments, Laura! Agreed: The potential for making patient care and monitoring far more efficient is huge.

  3. Passive monitoring of health related information makes the most sense for not just seniors, but really any age group. I can’t even manage to keep a food diary, and that’s as low tech as it gets. We all feel like we’re too busy to add something new to our routine and adopting new habits is hard. Add to that the learning curve associated with technology (which can be very intimidating) and it’s easy to understand how gadgets can be discarded despite their benefits.

    Think of all the seniors you’ve visited who had their PERS pendant stuck away in some drawer. Even though they understand the benefits of technology, they are unlikely to use it if it’s perceived as one more thing to do, wear, use or something that makes them feel old and frail.

    While I find all the future oriented “James Bond” stuff interesting, I wonder how acceptable things like wearing special contact lenses will be to seniors, or anyone else for that matter. Special toilets and underwear that monitor vital signs all sound neat, but what expense will be associated with these high tech solutions?

    What has been found acceptable, affordable and is available today is installing sensor technology in the living environment (motion sensors, etc) that collects and reports data on behavior and activities of daily living. In the settings mentioned (assisted living, home health) passive monitoring gives the provider ongoing feedback on key wellness indicators like sleep, activity level and bathroom use. Most seniors either can’t or won’t self report changes in condition for a variety of reasons, and many front line staff find it challenging to identify or report those changes as well. As a result, we loose the window of opportunity to intervene early.

    Passive monitoring technology bridges the communication gap. We are stuck in this reactive model of care, responding after the fall, after the emergency. We can adopt the tools that will help us be proactive, allowing us to intervene early and prevent / reduce falls, hospitalizations and other serious health issues. The technology is here, and the positive outcomes are documented.

    Full disclosure, I work at WellAWARE, and our company mentioned in the article. My background is 18+ years in the provider end of senior living. I believe that technology will be a key component in caring for seniors now and in the future, both to prevent/ reduce health related crisis and to provide seniors with support and options to age in place.

  4. Angela Stringfellow says:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for your insightful response! You bring up some interesting points. While it’s mentioned that these gadgets come at a low cost to manufacturers (e.g., microchips in pills and tablets cost pharmaceutical companies just a penny each), at what cost will they finally reach the end consumer? It’s likely to be at a several-hundred percent profit margin, at least initially, but if costs are kept down these solutions really could simplify reporting and monitoring, as you suggest. Patient compliance is a huge issue, both in terms of medication compliance and reporting accuracy, and some of these concepts could ease both. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  5. I attended HIMSS11 last week hoping to find new technologies, including smart phone applications, that can be utilized to improve patient care. Our emphasis is on home and assisted living care for seniors. Patient monitoring is, to me, in its infancy. I did not encounter the passive technology at HIMSS11 referred to in this group post, I am most thankful for learning about it here.

  6. Jeff says:

    Interesting. This could spawn a whole new industry of remotely monitoring patients. It’s easier to monitor patients in a care facility because they all live in close proximity to the people monitoring. But for people that live at home farther away from the facility, this could work like an ADT home alarm system. If an alert comes in it could be referred to a neighbor or close living family member that could check in to see if everything is alright.

  7. Steve Abate says:

    At VRI we offer telehealth monitoring services and products while partnering with health care professionals, agencies and communities that share our mission to allow seniors that desire to age in place, but have conditions that may limit their ability to move freely, communicate effectively or otherwise navigate their environment, a strong measure of comfort, convenience and control.

    Today technology is playing an increasingly pivotal role in the lives of older persons. By subscribing to the VRI services we can improve and enhance the efficiency of care delivery while improving quality of life. We have implemented technology to help address issues such as safety, wandering, incontinence and medication compliance. In doing so we are working to blend traditional principles of caring, compassion and service with modern technology and enhanced responsiveness.

  8. It is really an informative post. What a superb innovation to measure blood pressure and reading pulse sensor by equipping blood pressure monitors in the underwear. Also, keeping digestive chips in tablets and pills to know whether the patient has taken the medicine plus a whole lot of information like stomach pH is another creative innovation. What a thought to use contact lenses to measure glucose level in diabetic patients. Can you explain which type of fixtures used in bathroom to measure the body weight temperature etc? This will surely help in cutting down the assisted living and home care charges for patient care. Please explain about these equipments in detail.

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