The IoT in Healthcare – improving lives in care homes. Part 2
How can the IoT improve the lives of clients and staff in care homes?
In part 2 of this blog series I hope to continue to seed some ideas that could go some way to improving our lives in the near and long term future.
It is common to be prescribed medication and be left on that medication for years without review. Even when requested medication reviews can take months before being able to see a specialist. In the meantime, the individual can be suffering with a number of medication related issues under the radar. Unfortunately, the ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ strategy is not appropriate, but nevertheless, this approach is often applied by default.
This may only require a simple strategy where a record of the person’s medication is held on line with an agreed update recording any new symptoms. An agreed review date can be visible on line but the regular updates have the ability to bring forward the review to avert any deterioration in the clients health due to medication side effects.
Medicine and medical supplies ordering
Medicine and medical supplies ordering can be complex and prone to error, with stressful and sometimes serious consequences. I know through personal experience how stressful it can be keeping on top of all of the orders. It requires almost daily manual monitoring and often results in notes posted on fridge doors and two or three trips to the chemist to collect all of the medications on the order. It is a complex task made even more so when a vital medicine goes in short supply requiring a call to 20 to 30 chemists to track down the missing items. The whole process is so inefficient and prone to error requiring a wheel to be reinvented every time a prescription is raised.
Medicines are relatively easy to predict in the most part, other than some minor adjustments due to spillages or errors in measurement. Supplies such as bed pads, surgical gloves, wipes and other disposables are a little less predictable but not impossible to manage. Having an automated order facility would remove some of the challenges associated with checking stock, requesting the prescription and receiving notification that the order is complete and awaiting collection.
Having this information in the Cloud would also prevent mistakes when emergency doctors are called as all of the medication records would be available for healthcare professionals to see. It is also feasible that any additional medications required to overcome an infection or temporary condition could be recorded in the same system. This would enable automatic analysis to check for contraindications to reduce the risk to the client.
Patterns of behaviour
The ability to monitor and record patterns of behaviour can contribute significantly to a comprehensive proactive healthcare management system. Simply relying on the person in care to raise an alarm may fall short of identifying underlying and developing health problems. Most of us are creatures of habit so deviation from our normal pattern of behaviour could be an early indication of a developing health issue.
Using a range of bed and floor pressure sensors and door sensors combined with appliance sensors on the kettle, fridge, microwave, cupboards, TV, etc. a baseline pattern of behaviour can be determined for future reference. Thresholds can be set to alert healthcare professionals or family for early intervention.
Anxiety can be an indication of so many underlying conditions. Some people can suffer with anxiety and not actually know why they are suffering. However, the results are very real and often debilitating. If stress and anxiety can be monitored (using heart and skin sensors for example) it has far greater chance of being managed.
Taking anxiety monitoring a stage further, we may be able to reduce the effects of anxiety through changes in the surroundings. Environment can play a big part in managing anxiety, especially for people with Autism. Keeping noise to a minimum, playing favourite music or nature sounds, maintaining a cool temperature and creating a calming mood with effective lighting can help significantly to restore calm.
Triggers from anxiety monitoring can be used to set up the environment in a way that the person in care finds calming. The lighting technology is already available in retail as some shops are attaching coded tags to their clothes to set the mood of the lighting in changing rooms. If the customer enters the changing room with swimwear the lighting will represent sunshine. If they enter the changing room with night wear the lighting will be more subdued. This technology could be put to good use to help reduce anxiety controlled from the Cloud.
Environmental controls and alarms
By incorporating heating and lighting controls clients would be able to maintain their environment via remote control or mobile app. This could be particularly useful for people confined to their beds. Smoke, fire, carbon monoxide and other alarms could also be fed into system to provide emergency alerts to monitoring centres and family.
Real Time Location System badges or tags can be used to locate people. This could be a permanent monitor or it could be triggered at a perimeter to raise awareness that someone has crossed a threshold. When my daughter was in the rehabilitation hospital a handful of disoriented patients were constantly attempting to ‘escape’. Occasionally they slipped away unnoticed and staff had to retrieve them. An early warning system would prevent having to have a total lock down.
The ever increasing number of people requiring care is stretching local authorities and the NHS across the country. Something clearly needs to be done to ensure the growing number of clients in care homes are cared for safely and effectively. Effective use of the IoT in our care system would be truly transformational. There is no doubt it requires significant investment, but if there is sufficient demand for these IoT devices and Cloud services, the costs will tumble. Maybe if there is sufficient public awareness that these IoT technologies exist and the positive impact they could have on our family members in care it would create the demand. If you had the choice of a care home making use of all of the available techniques to ensure the health and well-being of your loved one and enables you to monitor them from the comfort of your home or, another that relies on human intervention and chance, which would you choose?
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