From remote monitoring to big data, air quality and person-centred care, the social care sector is embracing the internet of things to transform patient care.
Covid-19 has placed a huge burden on a care system which was already under pressure. Tight budgets, limited staffing, and an aging population have stretched care systems to the limit. Technology, and especially the internet of things, can offer a solution.
The modern world creates pressure for care home services. By 2050 more than one in five (22%) of the US population is expected to be over 65 compared to 16.5% in 2019. The number of people requiring complex or long-term care is likely to increase dramatically.
Meanwhile social care budgets are tightening. As a result, care homes are having to care for more people, with more complex needs and for longer. Without a dramatic change, the situation feels unsustainable.
At the same time, patients are becoming more demanding. Digital technology has transformed society. People have come to expect a certain level of technology and convenience in their every day lives, and also tend to demand it in their care. For example, they expect to avoid long waits and to benefit from digital technology providing faster access and superior quality.
As understanding of health care grows so does complexity. The pandemic has shifted attention onto the impact of loneliness and isolation on mental health and physical fitness. People are spending lengthy periods isolated from their loved ones and with limited scope for exercise.
Technology is providing an answer in various areas, some of which we've summarised below.
Monitoring patient behaviour is producing results in a number of different ways. For example, wearable technology can detect patterns in their health such as heart rate or blood pressure giving advance warning of any problems. Carers can monitor various physical signs and design a more effective care plans around these results.
Ambient sensors on items such as the kettle, cooker or anything else can provide insights into routines and spot significant changes. Fall monitors also provide information if someone has suffered an accident, prompting an alarm which can immediately call for help.
Having more real time information about patients, enables social care providers to keep a closer eye on them and enables more independent living in their own homes. This not only reduces the cost of care from a provider's perspective, but it also improves outcomes and patient wellbeing.
Concerns about COVID-19 have persuaded many care homes to implement air quality sensors. Care homers are some of the highest risk environments imaginable. Static and poor air quality pushes the risk of infection up even higher. Air flow monitors can help companies regulate air quality within the home, creating a much healthier and low risk environment.
Data is considered to be crucial to healthcare at all levels but until now it's an area in which healthcare providers have been lacking. When data is not shared effectively, treatment becomes more disjointed.
To deliver a more seamless care experience health services are working to share patient data between departments. The aim is to ensure that, regardless of who is delivering care, they can see your medical records and all care notes.
In a care home setting, data can provide more information about the patient and facilitate a more personalised care experience. For example, knowing more about a patient's personality, likes and history can help care home staff to design more bespoke care plans.
For example, playing someone's favourite music has been shown to be a useful way to engage with patients living with dementia.
Underpinning all these is internet connectivity. Speeds are rising rapidly, creating a significant difference between those organisations who offer standard speed broadband and those capable of delivering ultra-fast broadband speeds. The faster your care home's broadband speeds, the more services you can offer and connected devices offering a superior care experience for all residents.
Into the future
It's hard to think of a sector which is more in need of digital transformation. The challenges of rising demand and limited resources feel insurmountable given existing infrastructure. Technology has to be the answer. Even so, many care providers are hesitant. Benefits are weighed against concerns about capacity, legacy systems or data privacy.
These concerns are understandable and care homes will need to develop plans to ensure technological upgrades are successful. However, as internet of things technology evolves, and care homes begin to adopt it, the gap between early movers and late adopters is growing by the week. In a world of growing challenges and complexity, digital technology can answer some of the most pressing questions facing social care in the 21st century.