Technology solution to burdened health care systemMarch 17, 2017
By Richard Parkinson, Director at FarrPoint
By 2035 it is anticipated the number of people over 75-years old in Scotland will increase by 82 per cent from 2010, making up 13 per cent of the total population. This ageing population is placing pressure on hospitals and care providers. In June alone 1,159 patients’ discharges from hospitals were delayed even though they were medically well enough to leave, mostly due to the lack of availability of necessary care, support and accommodation arrangements.
One solution to enable people to live independently for longer to relieve this increasing pressure is through the use of technology and the Internet of Things (IoT). This all falls under the umbrella of the NHS initiative of technology enabled care, also known as telecare.
Telecare is the range of in-home and mobile services that enable people to live independently using a range of analogue, digital and mobile technologies. These include personal alarms, devices and sensors around the home through to more complex technologies to monitor the movements of at-risk people, such as those with cognitive impairments or physical frailties.
Today, councils and sheltered house providers deliver telecare to over 160,000 people in Scotland and some users also buy similar services from a private provider. These publicly provided services currently use analogue technology to provide a basic level of monitoring. Options are currently being explored to transition this technology into the digital age to future- proof the service and improve safety of its users.
With the number of people using the services anticipated to triple by 2020, we need to focus on making the existing service more reliable and efficient as well as implementing advanced monitoring capabilities through new technologies. Scotland’s 32 councils, the Scottish Government, practitioners, industry and academia are looking at ways of making this happen. In fact, Scotland has been named as an important European reference site for its work in finding innovative solutions, including digital care, for its ageing population.
Any upgrades to the service need to have a human focus. Technology will deal with the routine maintenance type activity, leaving carers with more time to focus on the user. The move of telecare to digital technology will also provide the opportunity to integrate health and social care applications and data. This will provide users with a single “health hub”, rather than multiple separate devices and applications in the home. It will also provide health and social care staff with an overarching view of the health and wellbeing of users, allowing them to better provide joined-up care.
Currently, the alarms and sensors used in telecare are basic devices that are only able to send simple status messages to a local alarm receiving centre. Typically a sensor, such as a smoke detector or a panic button worn as a pendant around the neck, will only send a message when it is triggered. This means that most of the time the receiving centre has no visibility of the sensors to verify that they are functioning correctly. Digital sensors send constant notifications to the receiving centre to show they are functioning correctly. These digital sensors are also able to complete a wider range of monitoring and feed this information in real time back to the monitoring service.
Digital telecare will also be able to take advantage of mobile technology, wearables, and the Internet of Things (IoT). These devices can be used to provide a rich source of information on the health and wellbeing of users. Mobile technology and wearables monitor users’ activity levels and location with the information fed to care providers. For example, mobile phones can send an alert to the centre if a person with dementia walks more than a pre-set distance from their home, enabling fast action to be taken to ensure their safety. Internet enabled devices in the home, for example smart fridges, can also be used to monitor users’ activity levels, reducing the need for dedicated telecare monitors in the home.
The increase in the number of older people over the next few years will make the current analogue telecare systems unsustainable. The introduction of digital technology will allow telecare to help support people to live independently for longer and enable them to return to their homes sooner following hospitalisation.