Technology is giving the home health care industry a much-needed upgrade that is helping patients live healthier lives.

Technology is giving the home health care industry a much-needed upgrade that is helping patients live healthier lives.

During the last decade, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of individuals receiving health care services within their homes, with an estimated 12 million currently receiving some form of in-home service. Although this trend largely results in better outcomes and lower costs, it requires an infrastructure of support from home health providers, caregivers and patients to ensure it works well. Technology has proven to be key in this effort and is giving the home health care industry a much-needed upgrade that is helping patients live healthier lives.

Camille Peres, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, is measuring the usability of current home health technology and developing new innovative technology to make home health care an even more beneficial service for all involved. Her work in this area provides an insider’s view on some of the benefits and drawbacks that technology can provide in patient care.

“For the home health nurse, we expect that in the near future technology can facilitate the actual home visits by making record keeping easy and fast,” Peres said. “Home health nurses will be able to manage their activities through the use of mapping and scheduling programs that organize their days based on the patients they are scheduled to see, the location of those patients and the time they need to spend with each one.”

Further, if an emergency arises and the schedule must be changed, these types of programs could help reschedule the nurse’s day to best accommodate the information associated with that schedule change.

For the patient and their day-to-day caregivers (e.g., family members), technology can be leveraged for issues ranging from wound care to training on diet, according to Peres. For example, it would be much more efficient for a home health nurse to take a picture using a tablet device of a patient’s wound to document how well the wound is healing from one visit to the next than writing a description. Further, if the nurse sees anything about the wound that is concerning, he or she could send it to the patient’s primary care provider for review. Also, if the patient has a tablet similar to the nurse’s tablet, the nurse can download training videos that show the patient (and his or her caregivers) what foods to avoid during the recovery period.

S. Camille Peres, Ph.D.

S. Camille Peres, Ph.D.

Technology also can make it easier for patients to access their medical records and coordinate their own medical care. With the inclusion of sensors that can monitor heart rate, blood pressure and even blood sugar levels, patients will be able to communicate certain elements of their health status to their medical providers in real time.

Although these innovations are helpful, there are some risks involved in integrating technology into home health. In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration launched the Medical Device Home Use Initiative, an effort that regulates medical home health devices to ensure that they are safe and effective for use in the home. Another group who advocates for those using home health technology is the Emergency Care Research Institute (ECRI), who in 2011 issued a report strongly recommending doctors consider the usability of home health devices before prescribing them for their patients.

With usability being a main concern, researchers like Peres have been investigating and providing solutions to these issues. Further, Peres and her colleagues are identifying those types of devices that physicians, home health care providers, patients and caregivers alike need to know more about before they are prescribed for home health care use.

Regardless of the usability challenges, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Patients are able to decrease medical bills as a result of fewer hospitalizations, increase effectiveness of care by being in a familiar and convenient environment and improve their overall quality of life. Physicians are able to collaborate with other physicians and experts in new ways and use computers to analyze patient and medical data, allowing them to provide better and more efficient treatment for their patients.

“As technology continues to expand the horizons of medicine and medical interaction, it’s becoming clear that we’re entering a new era of health care,” Peres said. “By developing new, safe technology, these benefits will increase, and likely better the life of many individuals.”

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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