The one constant in homecare is change, and change is coming as fast as ever. Recent mergers demonstrate the promise of technology in solving the perennial problems in the homecare industry: staffing, increased demand for services, and increased expense and complexity of delivering care in the home. And did we mention staffing?
One way industries in crisis cope is to reinvent themselves with technology. We have seen major technological transformations in manufacturing, banking, entertainment, retail, publishing, travel and transportation—changes that have only accelerated during the pandemic. Technology has radically changed these industries, improving their efficiency and their ability to serve consumers. Transformative technology not only creates new choices for consumers and businesses but also serves them better at lower cost.
Technology companies for the homecare industry are building systems to automate back-office functions like scheduling, staffing, billing and more. What has been sadly lacking are systems that are focused on the front end—the critical point of care, where resources are stretched ever thinner.
So far, technology for homecare at the point of care has focused on unique answers for every problem. Devices abound but most don’t talk to each other. During the public health emergency, the problem was interacting without being present in person. Many clients installed internet, bought a tablet and thought that was it. However, even this seemingly simple technology requires continual oversight and can be more than what a user can handle day-to-day. All of the different technologies to address multiple conditions—tablets, modems, personal emergency response systems (PERS), medication management, motion detectors and clinical devices—can quickly become overwhelming. None of these “solutions” work with each other. Even a major retailer who provides technical services for seniors in their homes focuses on what we would call home automation, rather than solving the care puzzle. The only option is to throw people at the care side to fill the gaps.
Let’s change it. Let’s think about how to use technology for care automation, not home automation. What are the keys to future success?
- Doesn’t require an IT department to set up
- Recognizes each care journey has points of greater need and monitoring and times of less need
- Works together to automate and augment staff
- Provides good information, not just data, so that the care team can perceive, understand and think ahead
- Improves business operations, with a clearer picture of what is happening and needs to happen at the point of care
There are three major areas of technology development that will bring tremendous benefit in the not-too-distant future: wearables, highly precise monitoring and cloud platforms that understand the point of care. These technologies will transform simple fall detection into fall risk prediction, egress to wandering recovery and reactive care to proactive care management.
Most people are familiar with PERS and health wearables like FitBits and smartwatches. None of these devices provides a complete care automation solution. But new wearables can become the backbone of an affordable care automation solution. First, the wearable and its smartphone application for the family, plus a monitoring dashboard for agencies, gives full insight into a person’s movement and activity in and out the home. Many clients are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, where activity is key to maintaining cognitive capability. With these wearables, clients can safely engage in their favorite activities, and agencies and families can provide gentle oversight and proactively reach them with hands-free voice communication when necessary.
Since these wearables are full cellular devices, they have the key capability of being able to connect any in-home Bluetooth device, whether clinical or nonclinical, to the cloud. Think of taking vital signs automatically with devices and immediately having that data available and analyzed—with actionable information sent to the appropriate caregiver if warranted. Think of all the care automation devices that you could add or remove as needs change: temperature, pulse oximeter, medication management and even all those home automation devices to monitor safety, which could let you know if the stove is on or whether the refrigerator has been opened.
By automating the monitoring, caregivers can provide more valuable care for clients, and agencies can make care recommendations based on clear data. Agencies have also partnered with care management companies that provide remote monitoring to minimize risk for the homecare agency. The homecare agency can expand its service offerings and upsell clients with these new capabilities. Remote monitoring can extend staff and improve outcomes for clients.
2. Highly Precise Indoor Monitoring
While wearables are the first step in person-centered care and provide the key capability of going with the person wherever they go, new technology is coming to provide the next generation of monitoring in the home—this technology is called Ultra-Wideband (UWB). UWB operates through radio waves and is highly precise, with the ability to “see” in three dimensions, through walls and to 10 centimeters of precision. It used to be very expensive and only used in industrial applications, but now it is being used in consumer devices. Think of UWB as always-on indoor radar. With just a few sensors in the home, your care team can have a 360-degree view of the client. It’s perfect for not just detecting a fall, but also for seeing what happened before, during and after an incident. Combined with the cloud, you can understand the patterns of behavior that can impact outcomes.
Unlike video monitoring, this technology is privacy-respecting, noninvasive and secure. You can see changes in a client’s activity, their ability to get up and stand, their sleep or any bathroom habits that would indicate a change in their well-being. Imagine how happy they would be if your caregivers could help them with a problem before it merits a trip to the emergency room. Imagine how grateful your clients’ families would be if your technology spotted an adverse change in behavior after a medication change. Imagine how thankful you would be if you could see if a caregiver is following the care plan. All of this is possible with highly precise technology with the brains of the cloud behind it.
3. Revenue, Costs & Risk
We’ve covered how risks can be reduced with technology, and how the costs of implementing and using technology are improving every day. Now, let’s look at a few ideas about how technology enablement can help your agency increase revenue.
» Sign up clients earlier.
We know the cost of in-person care is expensive for families. By supplementing on-site caregivers with remote monitoring technology, you can present a client with a lower initial cost. Cellular technology lets you start now, with even just one client.
Families are looking for technology for the point of care and are willing to pay a few dollars a day to have it at the service of their loved ones.
Technology delivers data about what kind of care a person currently needs. With this data, a family can more easily understand the need for additional services. Data-driven discussions result in better outcomes.
» Retain clients longer.
Because technology can help you assess a client every day, you can adjust their care plan accordingly. You will know when you can remove services that are no longer needed. And, how the client’s outcomes are improving with the right care.
The only constant with technology is that it gets better, cheaper and faster. It’s time to adopt it wholeheartedly at the point of care. Only technology can deliver the situational awareness you need to see how, when, where and why a client might need help, before they may even know themselves. Imagine how your agency can grow and thrive with situational awareness at your fingertips.