Written by Nauman Jaffar, Founder, LocateMotion

Healthcare is moving in-home as it is almost 20 times cheaper as compared to a hospital bed and senior population in North American is set to double in next 10 years with 10,000 seniors crossing each day 65 age limit. We have seen that significant efforts have been made by both public and private organizations to help foster innovation in the home healthcare space; particularly when it comes to senior care.

However, the uptake of technology hasn’t been as swift as one would expect.

While most of us have an idea of how in-home care would look in the ‘future’, we’re not quite there yet. There are certain factors that need to be addressed to help us realize the full benefits technology has to offer.

Operation models have to evolve to focus on seniors well-being end to end instead of just agency focus

Human contact or senior well being has been central to home healthcare. Healthcare professionals and caregivers have traditionally visited a senior’s home to treat their injuries, illnesses or simply provide care. Once the service has been provided, the loop is essentially closed.

This applies to all home healthcare workers, whether they’re trained healthcare professionals such as nurses, physiotherapists, nutritionists and occupational therapists or caregivers providing support with day to day activities.

This approach works. However, the issue facing the home healthcare sector, in the United States and other developed countries, is that the changing population dynamics mean that this approach can’t be in place much longer.

According to the United Nations, by 2050, one in four persons living in Europe and Northern America will most likely be above the age of 65. The growth in the senior population is staggering. In the US alone, just between 2000-2016, there was a 40% increase in the number of people above the age of 65.

While the baby boomer population is growing at a fast rate, the younger population isn’t. This has lead to the fear of severe caregiver shortages in the United States. As per the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), the rising demand for care will lead to a major shortfall of nurses and caregivers. There will be an estimated 7.8 million unfilled jobs by 2026.

While it is not easy to change frameworks that have been in place for decades, small changes can help home healthcare providers to gradually transition to more technology-reliant frameworks. For instance, documentation can be digitized to save time, health data can be monitored through wearables to provide preventive care, and medication reminders can be communicated through mobile phones for active seniors.

Integrations will be key along with insights

While home health care providers need to move away from traditional models of operation, we need to understand that they can’t do it alone. There is a need for governments, health care providers, medical institutions, technology leaders, as well as medical professionals to work together to make this happen.

It is easy to work in silos but it is not very effective. If there is increased communication and integration between institutions, more effective testing and development processes can be put into place and solutions can be made user-ready in a shorter time frame.

The good news is that policymakers have started to realize this need. Some initiatives are being put in place to identify the gaps and facilitate communication between different entities in the senior healthcare space.

A recent report from the Science and Technology Council in the US highlights how the current government plans to facilitate the use of modern technologies to support the aging population. For instance, there is an aim to create a single eCare plan which will be accessible to seniors, caregivers, and any other member of the care team to ensure that everyone has updated information and care is provided accordingly.

Similarly, the Government of Canada is also working on ways to bring different stakeholders together. A program funded by the Public Health Agency of Government aims to enable different organizations in the healthcare industry, both public and private, to work together on research and innovation in the aging and brain health sector.

Integrations are the single most important element in the technology adoption process. They can help innovators and market leaders drive commercialization, procurement, and adoption of promising solutions.

This way, we can start getting closer to the ‘ideal’ in-home care scenario; where multiple sensors, solutions, and devices are always connected to provide 24/7 health monitoring and all key stakeholders such as hospitals, home healthcare agencies, caregivers, and families have relevant, updated information. Book a demo with our startup SenSights platform that helps resolve this element holistically.

Privacy and data security remains a concern

The more organizations get added to the chain of care, the higher the privacy and data security concerns. As personal health data is involved, many healthcare providers are cautious while dispensing any of this information.

While there is no denying that the portability and distribution of computerized patient records can be very helpful in providing preventive and timely care; any misuse of the information can lead to fines as well as reputation damage for these companies. In the US, regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA and P-HIPAA in US and Canada) ensure that patient information is always protected.

This is why there are barriers to integration and data sharing. When it comes to data sharing there will always be questions around what’s being integrated, where is the data going, and who has access to it.

Though this is a legitimate concern, written contracts and legal documentation can help mitigate the risks involved. Lawyers can be engaged to ensure that there are no loopholes so that once legalities have been taken care of, data can be shared.

Are seniors receptive to technology?

Even if all of this is taken care of, the final question remains, will the seniors be receptive to technology? For the solutions to work, seniors need to be able and willing to adopt the technology.

Contrary to popular belief, a number of recent research and surveys have shown that seniors are quite comfortable with technology. In fact, the Pew Research Center’s findings show that about 82% of the seniors between the ages of 65-74 use the internet daily but the challenge is most seniors who need help today are over 75+ category and not that tech averse and not tuned to wearables. We need to think about how best to ensure this important category needs are met and we have developed SenSightsTM that is ready for prime time at LocateMotion with the market that will disrupt the age in place market.

Most of these 65-74 years seniors also own smartphones and are comfortable with other smart devices. Hence, this is a perceived barrier and can not be considered a deterrent when it comes to technology adoption.

So, when it comes to modernizing in-home senior care, it is important to address these factors.

Only when measures are put in place, regulations are strengthened, and companies are able to share data and information freely, can in-home care through modern technologies become a reality.