The IoT in healthcare – why is it so long overdue? Part 2
Why isn’t the IoT already improving and saving lives?
In the first part of this two-part blog I discussed some of my personal experiences and potential problems we are all facing with the healthcare system in the UK. IT and the IoT can resolve some of these problems and could undoubtedly prevent some minor problems from developing into major problems with all the associated costs. The technology has been around for many years and is already transforming some industries. I mentioned in the close of the last blog I was involved in a consortium bidding to develop an automated tele care solution in the second half of the 2000s. The consortium comprised health monitoring specialists, an NHS trust, a specialist software developer and Astro. We were responsible for providing the voice, video and telemetry communications facility to integrate all of these technologies over a single communications facility.
Our solution design used a combination of traditional health monitoring methods recording pulse, blood pressure and temperature (for example) along with lifestyle monitoring. The lifestyle-monitor comprised pressure pads, sensors on areas of regular activity such as kettles and fridge doors and audio and video communications capabilities. The lifestyle monitoring also extended to smoke alarm, premises access, water and temperature monitors to alert to potential emergency situations. Once a benchmark had been established any deviation could be set to raise an alarm in a central monitoring centre with an option to alert friends and family.
”…I got to hear some harrowing accounts of mistakes resulting in serious consequences for the patients concerned.”
I realise my situation is not unique. Many of us have, or will have, elderly relatives or loved ones requiring varying degrees of care at some stage in their lives. It is an extremely time-consuming and emotional challenge seeking out and selecting suitable long term care. Even arranging short term respite care can be extremely challenging, whether that care is at home or within a care home.
Finding appropriate care is vitally important to me now as my daughter has a complex medication regime that requires careful administration. I personally witnessed mistakes with doses of medication, and I realise how fortunate we were there to check Karen’s medication administration. Having spent so much time around brain injury hospitals and rehabilitation units I heard some harrowing accounts of mistakes resulting in serious consequences for the patients concerned. The common threads always seemed to be a breakdown in communication resulting in a mistake with medication.
Coincidentally, I attended a university lecture on the IoT last year and a senior healthcare worker in the audience raised a concern that in her area there was a one in ten chance of patients being given the wrong dose of medication. She also added that this was by no means exceptional. In fact, while I am writing this I recalled an incident when my younger daughter was in hospital about 10 years ago and I prevented a nurse attaching the wrong drip container to her cannula.
In the case of the medication for my elder daughter, the confusion resulted from the way the liquid medication was presented. The dose was listed on the drugs chart in milligrams but the dosage was measured in millilitres. To give a specific example, some of the medication is labelled as 50mg in 50ml but is also available in 50mg in 5ml. So to administer 20mg in the first example required a 20ml dose. However, the same dose in the latter example only required a 2ml dose. This led two experienced nurses to make the same mistake on two separate occasions.
“If qualified nursing staff can make these mistakes, so can family, friends and care workers with limited experience administering potentially dangerous drugs.”
If qualified nursing staff can make these mistakes, so can family, friends and care workers with limited experience administering potentially dangerous drugs. During rare respite breaks my daughter is so paranoid about being given an overdose that she asks her carers to measure the medication doses in front of her and she calls me to double check.
“The nurses on the drugs round were being pulled from pillar to post when they should have been allowed to concentrate on administering medication.”
I hasten to add I have the utmost admiration for the nursing staff including the nurses who made the mistake with the drugs chart. In effect I was working as a member of staff and I helped as much as I could while caring for my daughter. Having spent most of my life using IT and telecommunications to make peoples personal and working lives easier it horrified me to learn how little IT is used to support the nursing and care staff in their day to day care role. And as Andrew mentions in his blog, it is inexcusable.
The nurses on the drugs round were being pulled from pillar to post when they should have been allowed to concentrate on administering medication. This is a recipe for disaster and there is little wonder the mistakes are as low as in my experience. When my daughter moved to the rehabilitation hospital the nurses on medication duties wore a special bib to indicate that they must not be disturbed while administering drugs – a simple but effective solution to reduce interruptions and to significantly reduce the risk of mistakes.
We could do so much more with the IoT and Cloud to significantly reduce the risk of mistakes while reducing stress on already over-worked nursing staff. In fact, the technology Andrew refers to in his blog is already available and it is relatively low cost. Furthermore, it can be used in any care environment to make our care system in the UK world class.
“…I have some ideas, in addition to those mentioned above, as to how IT and in particular the IoT can be used to improve care in hospitals, care homes and private homes.”
The bid I was involved with was predominantly aimed at mental health and elderly care. Over 20 years ago, I worked on an experimental video solution for diabetes care. Just imagine how comprehensive our assistive technology solutions would be if all of these healthcare stakeholders combined forces (and budgets perhaps?) to design a solution that could be configured on demand for a range of complex care needs.
From a fairly experienced user’s perspective of the healthcare and care services I have some ideas in addition to those mentioned above, as to how IT and in particular the IoT can be used to improve care in hospitals, care homes and private homes. We could even take this a big leap forward and use IoT in preventative healthcare. Going back to the article in the Daily Mail, two of the main areas mentioned in the article relate to the ability of the NHS area to review the healthcare plan each year and, the ability for a patient to die in their own home.
“…someone in a position of power needs to give this the IoT in healthcare the consideration it deserves.”
The IoT can make an immediate positive impact on these two areas. By continuously monitoring the client’s health and state of mind, healthcare professionals will not have to wait for an annual (or less frequent) review to adjust the healthcare plan. The IoT will also allow more clients to be cared for at home, and therefore, affording them the ability to end their life in dignity at home. This is just the tip of the healthcare ice berg, so someone in a position of power needs to give the IoT in healthcare the consideration it deserves.
The next three blogs will look at each of these applications in more detail giving some examples as to where and how IoT can improve the lives of everyone involved in healthcare.
Dail Mail – Dementia Care Lottery Exposed
Andrew Gunn – Inexcusable, a lack of digital innovation in healthcare provision