With home monitoring devices and improved communication channels, patients have become active decision makers
By Dr Gaurav Thukral
Technology is at the heart of every home-based medical care service. It is the very ground on which this modern-day healthcare delivery system has been built upon. The main objectives of homecare are to allow patients to recover in an environment they are most comfortable in, reduce burden on hospital resources, improve perceived patient satisfaction and bring down the cost of healthcare expenditure, all of which are made possible due to innovations in information technology (IT). Homecare technologies like telemedicine, home monitoring devices and software, cloud-based medical data and mobile apps have made it possible to bring top-notch innovations right to the patients’ doorsteps.
Development in healthcare technology and their efficient implementation by homecare service providers have proved to be game changers in many ways. Empowerment of patients by providing them with self-management tools is one of them. Remote monitoring tools can include fitness bands that record the patients’ diet, sleep and exercise patterns. Accelerometer based systems are now widely used for the detection of physiological acoustic signals such as heart sounds, respiratory sounds, and gastrointestinal sounds- all of which provide essential physiological and pathological information.
However, diligence is to be maintained while monitoring health activities using accelerometers in certain populations like children, older adults and adults with functional limitations like the elderly as physical activities can vary from age-groups and the same parameters cannot be used for all to provide the best suited treatment plans. These tools allow patients to keep track of their own personal health without having to visit a doctor which can be expensive, time-consuming and, in the case of the elderly, can even further compromise their health. With home monitoring devices, improved communication channels and easy access to information, the transition of patients from passive care receivers to active decision makers has been made possible. This is true especially for those suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes.
The further evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) is going augment the homecare business model even further. IoT basically involves connecting any device to the internet and allowing exchange of data across them. Within the homecare sector, IoT can provide assistance with day-to-day health monitoring with advanced devices such as the one that immediately alerts the care provider when a patient forgets to take their medicine. On the other hand, IoT is also being developed to perform more complex actions like eye lenses that could measure glucose levels of diabetes patients via their tears and then store the information in a mobile device.
Fast, up to date and secure administration of medical data is another major advantage of homecare services enabled by IT. Patients and caregivers at home are able to upload data through secure platforms to the Cloud. This electronic data thus becomes a permanent personal health record which can be accessed at any time and from anywhere whenever required. Innovations like remote sensors ensure that a patient’s health is under scrutiny 24×7 at home as opposed to traditional methods where only a hospital visit provided an opportunity for examination. With the help of the high-end platforms, homecare providers ensure that every minute detail is shared with the consulting doctor. Such advanced data provides a much more comprehensive insight into a patient’s medical condition, allowing care providers to design more personalised treatments for each individual patient.
With IBM’s supercomputer Watson being developed to orchestrate big data for the healthcare sector, this area is only going to get more advanced. It is believed that almost 80% data in the healthcare industry is lying unused. What Watson can do is store, retrieve and analyse this massive library of data within seconds and help doctors suggest the most precise treatment plan for a patient. This tech feature is already being successfully employed in fields like oncology.
Sophisticated technology has thus improved the care provider-patient relationship. Along with the healthcare providers who form the frontline of homecare, interacting directly with the patients, there are IT professionals employed in the back-end who have an equally crucial role to play in the organisation. In order to make sure that the connection between the two sides remains uninterrupted with seamless flow of information, these IT professionals work round-the-clock for a coherent healthcare delivery system that is conducive for the homecare scenario. Healthcare delivery at home is made possible by this steady flow of information between the patient’s home where care is being delivered according to the consulting doctor’s suggested treatment.
Home visit reports (HVR) and daily activities are shared with the doctor multiple times a day for remote monitoring and support so that whenever necessary, he or she can intervene in the treatment process. E-monitoring solutions include live streaming of patient’s condition to the doctor, daily medical round system and on-demand tele-consultation.
Live video interaction using audiovisual telecommunications technology for consultation, diagnosis and treatment is becoming increasingly common. This real-time communication dispenses off with in-person interaction providing patients with independence, convenience and flexibility while relieving burden on doctors and hospital infrastructure. Technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being developed to make homecare services even more competent. In a recent report titled Artificial Intelligence: Healthcare’s New Nervous System, Accenture reported that virtual nursing assistants are have become a frontrunner of AI value. Virtual nurses assess a patient’s symptoms and delivers alerts to clinicians while considerably reducing hospital visits. The report states that as this AI technology becomes more evolved it will go beyond effective triage and transition into providing expertise and recommendations around patient treatment.
Today, home healthcare providers are able to impart such intricate facilities like ICU at home and home chemotherapy at a much lesser cost than hospitals. For patients with debilitating diseases who find constant hospital visits increasingly demanding ICU at home is the most convenient provision. It enables them to recover in a comfortable environment while their family members are also put at ease. Equipment like monitors, bi-pap machine, portable diagnostic machines, defibrillator and oxygen concentrator are all put in place inside the patient’s home. Such resources would’ve been unimaginable in the past, but with technology making rapid strides, it is only appropriate that we take advantage of the convenience that’s at our disposal now.
Questions have sometimes been raised about whether patients, especially the elderly, can effectively adopt technology provided by homecare. The answer is yes. According to market research firm, Tractica, global consumers utilising home health technologies will reach 78.5 million by 2020. The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) released a study in 2015 which states that people are adopting medical technologies as quickly as they are being developed. The FDA study mentions that by 2018, 50% of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users will have downloaded mobile health applications. These users include healthcare professionals, consumers, and patients. Technology, therefore, plays a central role in every realm of homecare. It creates the fundamental link for facilitating communication, helps in conducting treatment in a methodical manner and improves collaboration between care providers and care receivers. With this sector growing more and more in importance, a significant amount will be spent in R&D to further innovate existing technologies, ensuring that the future of homecare is only set to get more revolutionary.