By Troy Dayon, President of STANLEY Healthcare
Connectivity has changed our world. We have become used to working from anywhere, accessing a vast array of information and services in moments, and collaborating with people across regions and time zones.
This connectivity revolution has proved invaluable over the last many months, enabling society to keep going in the face of a devastating pandemic. Video calling platforms have kept distant families in touch and provided an important means of socialising for the isolated or those who are less mobile. Similarly, virtual doctor’s appointments provided a vital lifeline for those with chronic illnesses.
And yet we all know that something has also been lost, because “connectivity” is not the same as “connection.” I see this most particularly in the healthcare space. The direct, human contact of caregiver to patient will remain the central care experience – what most of us want most of the time, even as we come to accept the speed and convenience of remote technologies.
Given that the world has an aging population, we need strategies and technologies to empower healthcare professionals, and help close the growing caregiver gap — the American Association of Retired People (AARP) suggests that by 2030 there will be a shortage of 151,000 caregivers in the U.S. alone.
The challenge, then, is to harness the power of technology to support caregivers and enable meaningful and effective care experiences.
Big, and Small, Data
Large data sets are already being used at the population health level, and increasingly for diagnostic support. But the data analysis techniques for Big Data are just as effective for “small data” at the facility or even individual level.
Connected smart devices can be used to gather information, which can then be analysed by AI to draw out patterns and trends and suggest ways of improving operational efficiency, or discovering new correlations of cause and effect. Technology can’t do the work of a professional caregiver, but it can help them do it more efficiently.
When we think of autonomous technologies, we’re likely to imagine production lines, or futuristic, human-like automata. But when it comes to caregiving, while the idea of “robot nurses” might appeal to our imagination, it’s not a practical reality. The empathy, understanding, and complex decision-making of human caregivers just can’t be replicated by any kind of machine.
However, there are multiple technologies that are proving to be invaluable to caregivers, including the automation of time-consuming tasks or helping with locating critical assets or devices. The data provided by these types of healthcare technologies can help reduce the risk of burnout as it means caregivers can spend time where it is needed the most – with the patient.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity that technology brings to the caregiving industry is the possibility of moving from reactive to preventative care with solutions that combine automation and AI , such as Foresite. Newly developed devices for round-the-clock monitoring and automatic alerts can go beyond simply relaying when an emergency has happened after the fact, but can even send updates to a caregiver when there is an increased risk of emergency.
This is a small but very important step in improving the wellbeing and health of aging individuals, as well as reducing the number of emergencies a caregiver needs to attend to, or even reducing the need for hospitalisation.
These passive motion and depth sensors can be installed in a resident’s room and paint a privacy-protected image of their daily routine. When an individual begins to show changes in this routine – for example, taking longer to get out of bed or getting up in the night more often – caregivers are alerted to a potential change in health status. If the caregiver is aware of this, they can adjust care levels and ultimately prevent emergencies from occurring.
Independent research has found that passive sensor technology can reduce falls by 54%, providing alerts for heightened risk three weeks in advance of the fall occurring, by detecting these early signs that are often imperceptible to a human. Studies have also shown that these technologies reduced the overall rate of hospitalisations. Of course, falls and other emergencies still happen, but when they do, these technologies can help caregivers learn why and how they occurred, making for more informed preventative measures in the future.
The caregiver shortage is a complex challenge, and technology alone will not solve it. However, technology is key to improving conditions and enabling caregivers to optimise their time and focus it on the needs of the patient, resident, or family member.
Data and AI have enabled a more virtually connected world, but they also have a critical role in freeing caregivers from mundane tasks and saving their time for real, human connection to those they care for.