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Technologically Assisted Care Fanned by COVID-19
More than 6 million individuals annually receive healthcare in the home, including infants requiring after-delivery care and elderly needing assistance with personal care or complex skilled care for wounds and chronic conditions. This number is expected to grow as the population continues to age and more individuals desire to receive care in the home as a result of the pandemic. Providers of care in the home play a critical role in the community by helping hospitals and other healthcare providers manage at-risk populations.
The pandemic ushered in the need to provide care in the home in ways that previously had been limited due to barriers such as lack of connectivity, devices, and knowledge and limited funding sources willing to pay for technology-based care. However, COVID-19 restrictions led many to eliminate those barriers, driven by the need to connect care to patients in the home using a variety of technology options. While CMS changed some long-standing policies to incorporate technology-based care into Medicare- and Medicaid-funded programs, one of the biggest drivers of technology advancements has come from the desire for families to keep their loved ones safely at home. As the “silver tsunami” of baby boomers enters retirement, the desire to age in place is at an all-time high. Technology also is on the fast track of production and evolution accompanied by overall declining costs, making it a more affordable solution for care.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has allowed us to connect and transmit data in a variety of ways. The interconnectivity of products that are identifiable through digital networks also opens the door for us to approach healthcare challenges. Also known as connected technologies, the IoT is a weblike sprawl of products constantly evolving and expanding, which in turn provides new solutions to addressing healthcare needs and care in the home. Hospital at Home, for example, is an emerging part of the healthcare ecosystem being implemented across the country and proving to be a desired and cost-effective way to provide care in the home that is supported by these types of technologies.
Smart homes are continuing to emerge with connected devices activated by a central hub of control such as a smartphone, hub, or tablet through smart apps. Home automation or “domotics” uses connected devices to enable the remote management of a variety of activities such as controlling thermostats, locking and unlocking doors, opening and closing garage doors, turning off and on appliances, and much more. Healthcare devices like medication dispensers, motion-sensing devices, and blood sugar monitoring also are in the market and continuing to get more sophisticated and affordable. The continual development of these types of tools gives us options to safely care for and monitor our aging population, but this approach isn’t without challenges and risks. Different manufacturers have different devices that don’t connect, and multiple apps may be required to manage varied products that may have ongoing programming and maintenance requirements. These types of barriers in addition to the cost, fear, and/or confusion about how to program devices that some individuals experience can impede the willingness to take advantage of the available tools. The potential for hacking into networks and compromising security also needs to be considered when implementing these types of solutions. The benefits of smart homes in the healthcare arena can assist with improving functional independence, improving quality of life and safety, and reducing isolation, as well as allow for monitoring by family, which can provide reassurance and extend opportunities to age in place.
Technological advances in vital signs monitoring, heart rhythm tracing, activity level/steps capture, and fall detection provide more data to family and clinicians, giving them valuable insight into how an individual is progressing or declining over time. These advances will continue to evolve, allowing our approaches to care to evolve, too, but we need to start thinking differently now. Emerging business opportunities like assisting families with age-in-place plans that include technological solutions are popping up. Demand in spaces like this will grow as our population ages, which in turn will push technology solutions and care-in-the-home options. Fanned by the flames of COVID-19, the opportunities abound.