[Reprinted: Inside Aging, 7-24-2020]
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risks for seniors who receive in-home elder care. Caregivers use masks, handwashing, and social distancing to increase the safety of home visits, but for many, reducing the frequency of visits can be a valuable piece in the puzzle of pandemic safety protocol. Telemedicine can meet a percentage of service needs while significantly reducing both cost and transmission risk. For many home care caregivers, innovative telemedicine tools are the means to provide socially-distant, high-quality care.
Telehealth Video Conferencing Software
Even before COVID-19 made in-person appointments less common, telehealth video appointments were an important tool for improving access for homebound seniors. Elderly patients who can’t drive or who have mobility challenges can more easily attend appointments from the comfort of home. Standard video conferencing software doesn’t always meet the security and privacy requirements, but software that’s designed specifically for telehealth is secure and safe for virtual provider visits are available. A senior who’s receiving in-person support from a companion can often address healthcare needs with a video appointment, without the need for transportation or the increased risk of in-person visits.
The best telehealth conference tools are easy for people with minimal technology skills to use and don’t require patients to download or install new software. They should also be private and secure with end-to-end encryption. In addition, they should integrate smoothly with patient scheduling software and other provider tools.
Remote Patient Monitoring Devices
For seniors who need a higher level of care, remote health devices can supplement in-person care with 24/7 monitoring. When an individual needs more support than occasional visits but isn’t ready to transition to live-in care, monitoring devices can help bridge the gap. Remote patient monitoring devices, or RPMs, can track health information from blood glucose level to eating habits, enabling physicians to monitor symptoms and identify risk factors before a condition becomes serious.
RPMs are especially useful for managing chronic conditions, since tracking changes over time is key to management. Unlike a visiting caregiver, who only collects a snapshot of data at the time of the visit, remote monitoring devices can collect a continual stream of information, providing comprehensive longitudinal data about a patient’s progress. A nurse or physician can then review the data and follow up with a telehealth conference or in-person visit if the need is indicated. RPMs can thus reduce the need for hospital visits as well as the need for home visits from a nurse or specialist.
RPMs can be simple and designed for a specific condition, such as a smart glucose monitor that automatically sends measurements to a nurse when the senior checks their blood glucose levels after a meal. RPMs can also be complex and multi-purpose, such as a full-home movement monitoring system that tracks where the senior moves throughout the day (providing information about mobility and rest habits) and alerts a nearby caregiver if the senior suffers a fall. RPMs can be wearable or installed in the home, or they can be used on a schedule or as-needed.
The type of remote monitoring an individual will most benefit from depends on their health needs. A senior with a cardiovascular condition might use a simple vitals monitor to track their blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and temperature at scheduled times throughout the day. A senior with a variety of chronic conditions who takes numerous medications might benefit from an app such as Medisafe that helps manage medication schedules and improve treatment adherence. A person with limited mobility and several health conditions might opt for a comprehensive senior monitoring solution like Sofihub.
The COVID-19 pandemic is propelling innovation in the field of telemedicine, as patients, caregivers, and physicians all seek to provide high-quality care without the risk of person-to-person contact. But the pandemic shouldn’t be the only driving force for remote healthcare. As a supplement to direct care, telemedicine can increase both access and care quality for elderly people who live in rural locations, who have limited mobility and transportation access, or who desire to balance their desire for privacy with their need for continual monitoring. The level of convenience, ease of access, and quality of care that telemedicine tools provide shouldn’t just be the opportunity of the moment; they should set the standard for the future.