Tech entering the Long Term Care Arena?

Long term care and technology would seem to be a natural fit. Long term care clients in just about any setting sit “in the middle” as far as what services they need. They don’t need the full-court press that hospitals provide for their inpatients (being checked on multiple times a day by nurses and physicians, extensive medical interventions to deal with extensive medical problems), but they need more than someone living independently. The services that long term care patients need would seem to be a natural fit for the evolving “internet of things” and our increasingly connected world.

Speaking broadly, long term care patients need a couple of things: monitoring and “on-demand” rather than continual access to health care services at different levels.

With the explosion of wearable health monitors like FitBits, Apple watches, and the like, not to mention home security-type monitoring and video calling, the technology can certainly accommodate a pretty significant level of remote monitoring at a level that would support long term care clients. One of the main functions of any level of long term care facility, from assisted living through long term acute care hospitals, is monitoring patients who don’t need intensive care. If monitoring can be done remotely, it would seem that patients would start shifting toward less intense facilities and even into their homes.

If you want to do remote monitoring of either home care or residential facility clients, the technology is pretty much there for checking in on patients and even monitoring their home environment (if they will tolerate video surveillance in their home or room). Its just not optimized for this industry. Trying to piggyback health monitoring onto the current generation of wearable technologies is pretty much a chewing-gum-and-baling-wire proposition, if it can be done at all. The next level of remote health monitoring, which goes deeper than activity levels and heart rates, just isn’t quite here yet.

Technology would also seem to support more “on-demand” care delivered remotely. Again, video calls can replace face-to-face caregiver encounters that don’t require “hands-on” by the caregiver, or can allow a caregiver who is on the scene to quickly call in someone to consult with. Long-term caregivers are often called on to provide diagnostic checks – blood pressure, heart rate, glucose, etc., all of which should be doable remotely. Even chronic care is becoming more automated. Diabetic patients that may not be able to manage their own insulin can now get an “artificial pancreas” – essentially, a smart insulin pump that can administer insulin as needed by automatic monitoring of blood sugar.

What is remarkable, though, is that technology hasn’t really shown up yet in the long term care world in an organized way. Looking around on Google, there was a burst of enthusiasm for technology in long term care a few years ago, and very little since. Some of this is probably attributable to the difficulties the health care industry as a whole is experiencing with telemedicine around payment and regulation, which may trickle down into the kinds of technologies that could help long-term care patients. If you are looking for a physician or advanced practice nurse who will do remote checks and consults on residents in your assisted living home or home care clients, you are probably having a hard time finding them. The health care provider industry just isn’t quite there yet, with technology work still focused on provider operations (electronic medical records and the like).

We’ll be keeping an eye on developments in this area, to let you know when “what’s not quite here yet” actually shows up.