Given that seniors are less averse to using technology than we might think, why are wearables and other Internet of Things data-providers likely to play a major role in their healthcare? These devices are in their infancy of development. The first Fitbits hit the market in 2009, the Apple Watch in 2015. Reports are rampant of new products that sound straight out of the pages of science fiction, such as a piece of clothing that tells if its wearer is depressed by tracking posture, breathing and skin temperature. Makers have learned that not only do their devices need to be relatively easy to use, they need to be comfortable and stylish. The Baby Boom generation has different ideas about what aging should look like. Unlike previous generations, they’re not hoping to sit in a rocker and watch the world go by – they want to stay active. And the idea of ending up in a nursing home is abhorrent to them – they want to stay in their own homes as long as possible.But it turns out that Boomers may be in bigger trouble health-wise than they would like to acknowledge. Americans have seen a rise of obesity over the past few decades, and Boomers are no exception. The attendant risks are likely to be prevalent factors as they age. With lifespans increasing thanks in part to medical interventions, it adds up to a large group of people needing care for years to come.
Butting up against that reality are the expenses of providing that care. With severe strains on traditional sources of funding such as Medicare and Social Security, incentives are strong to minimize visits to clinics and hospitals. Preventative medicine is a given, and remote care instead of in-person visits is even better in terms of cost-containment.
Enter tech solutions.
- Rather than going to a clinic and getting weighed, say, once a month, a senior can use a digital scale daily that saves and transmits results wirelessly – not only saving money, but providing more regular and comprehensive results.
- Instead of a nurse checking blood pressure, a home device can do the job and pass along records just as the scale does.
- Heart-rate records can be tracked not only throughout the day, but moment to moment with wearables.
- Wearables can also track movement, giving an indication how active a patient is.
- Sleep patterns, too, are trackable, letting providers know if the patient is indeed sleeping well or instead is sleeping fitfully.
- Glucose levels are also easily monitored and shared with those concerned about, say, a diabetic’s insulin tolerance.
Those are all present-day options for monitoring a patient’s health remotely, and more is to come.
All of that information can be sent to a central location, entered into the patient’s EMR and retrieved when needed to see if treatment is needed or the patient is doing fine. Patients, too, can see their health status and take precautions before their providers remind them to do so.
The critical feature of all these devices: They eliminate manual entry that previously was time-consuming and often inaccurate. The senior doesn’t have to write down what the scale, glucose meter or blood-pressure monitor said – the devices do it for her. With gamification incentives and other reasons to check their own results, seniors become more invested in maintaining the healthy practices that will keep them out of hospitals.
In the past, companies may have thought that the only modification they needed to make for seniors was to make the font size and buttons bigger. (That was enough to propel the sales a cellphone with jumbo keys and little more.) Manufacturers are starting to realize that’s not quite enough.