Be honest. Sure, you’re proud to be part of a hospital with high standards in every aspect of the patient experience. The rooms are comfortable and cheerful. The staff are highly skilled and empathetic. The quality of medical care ranks right up there with the best of them. Even the food defies the stereotype — it’s nutritious, contains no antibiotics or other suspect stuff, and it tastes good.
But if you didn’t ever have to stay in your hospital, would you?
Keeping people out is quickly becoming one of hospitals’ highest priorities. Government and private payers are demanding it, and so are patients themselves. Poll after poll shows that Americans want to remain in their homes no matter what their ailments, and studies indicate that letting them do so not only improves their emotional well-being, it promotes healing, too.
All of this is happening at the same time that the percentage of the population 60 and older soars. We’ll have more people with chronic illness and physical and mental vulnerabilities. How can elderly patients remain at home if they risk getting lost when they take a walk outside, falling when they move from one room to another, forgetting to take their meds at the designated time, or failing to regularly eat nutritious meals?
The good news is that new technologies are coming on the market at a rapid pace to help seniors maintain some measure of independence, enabling providers to monitor their well-being remotely and providing loved ones peace of mind.
In a Popular Mechanics piece earlier this year called “How Smart Tech Will Take Care of Grandma,” Kiona Smith-Strickland described, among other things, the “smart home in a box” being developed by two professors at Washington State University. The wall-mounted sensors monitor an individual’s movements; track water faucets, stovetops and other appliances; and alert the resident and caregivers to safety concerns.
Sally Abrams’ AARP Bulletin article titled “Is This the End of the Nursing Home?” listed a number of similarly useful devices. They include a digital pill dispenser that flashes when it’s time to take medication and that allows a loved one to log in remotely to make sure the patient has done so. There’s also a clock in which a family member records in his or her own familiar voice a gentle reminder to take a pill, feed a pet, get some exercise or do anything else the older person might neglect to do. And then there’s a “personal help button.” It’s worn around the neck or wrist to detect a fall and notify those who need to know.
That barely skims the surface. I’m sure you’ve read about lots and lots of clever devices or eyeballed them at last winter’s HIMSS conference. New ones are coming to market all the time, with ever-evolving, sometimes amazing capabilities.
Unfortunately, there’s bad news as well: Medicare and insurance companies do not pay for most of these devices.
That has got to change. If we are serious about allowing Americans to age in place, about reducing health care expenses and improving the quality of care, government and private payers need to step up. Despite fears that comparative-effectiveness programs will somehow deny patients access to certain products they want, payers should find a way to test new and promising tools, identify the good ones and negotiate reasonable prices. And then they need to cover their cost.