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Elderly Care Technology

Improving Elderly Care with the Latest Medical Technology

Improving elderly care isn’t just about helping older folks now — it’s about looking into the future, at the kind of needs an increasing elderly population will need down the line.

Luckily, medical technology, medical computers, and interconnectivity are experiencing an unprecedented level of growth and development right now.

How can technology improve the lifespans, mobility, and quality of life for people over 65? How can we predict their needs for the next 50 or even 100 years? What changes can we make to ensure that these developments are working and deployed when the time comes?

The Bad News First

Before we can dig into the right solutions, it’s vital we examine the unique problems coming down the pipe for both society and elder care.

According to a study published in Health Affairs, by the year 2030, the elderly population (those defined as 65+) is expected to double in size. The current infrastructure for elder care is hardly ideal, and it definitely isn’t ready for a 100% increase in load.

Secondly, and perhaps most shockingly, younger people today are generally less healthy in certain arenas than previous generations. Disabilities, diabetes, and obesity have all increased dramatically in the youth demographic. This is not only bad news on its own, but it means that the future burden on the elder care system will be proportionately increased.

So it’s not simply a numbers problem, though, yes, there will be more people over 65+ in 2030. It’s also the fact that there’s a good chance those elderly patients will require more aid due to a lifetime of complications from increased risk factors like diabetes and obesity.

The problem becomes two-fold, which is what the solutions must address. These technological solutions for elder care issues must help with understaffing, a larger patient population, insufficient infrastructure, and the complications of life-long health issues.

Remote Doctor Visits and Telehealth Solutions

The elderly are simply not as mobile as other patients. Unfortunately, they also require more medical attention than other patients. It’s in this contradiction that so many medical problems occur.

The elderly are also more likely to fall, and to injure themselves more severely when they do. The CDC estimates that almost 3 million elderly adults are injured in falls, with 27,000 leading to death.

Add in the risk of nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections, and we realize that even going to the hospital for routine work can be a danger for some elderly patients.

Telehealth is already being adopted in many elder care facilities, nursing homes, and rural areas where transportation is even more difficult. A provider with a strong telehealth policy can transform patient care for hundreds of miles. When a doctor can just pick up a medical tabletto perform a video-streamed remote exam on an elderly patient, it saves everyone time and money.

A doctor can combine these video-streamed exams with wearables like smart watches, clothing sensors, and fully-integrated smart homes to get incredibly detailed biometric data on the patient.

What’s a smart home, you ask?

What is a Smart Home, and How Can it Affect Elder Care?

Tied into the idea of telehealth is the idea that the home, be it an independent apartment or an elder care facility, can be seeded with tech that can make the elderly happier, healthier, and less at risk.

The idea of the smart homes, where healthcare is concerned, is the creation of a safe monitoring space for the patient using modern “internet of things” devices. These devices, usually wearables, can help monitor the patient’s blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, location, and a dozen other metrics even from the comfort of their own homes.

This information is then piped to a medical touchscreen computer, where doctors and other clinicians can be alerted to any sudden changes. This means that the elderly can get the same or similar level of monitoring without having to stay in a hospital bed. This not only saves the hospital time and money, but it ensures that an elderly person can convalesce in a comfortable environment that won’t drain their health insurance resources.

Aside from remote health monitoring, a smart home can also be set up to help the elderly on their daily self-care journey. Digital assistants like Alexa, Siri, Bixby, or other more medical-focused apps can be used to give loud, vocal reminders to the patient when it’s time to take a pill, change a bandage, charge an important monitoring device, or even to eat or drink water.

A “smart pillbox” can fill a similar role – it’s an internet connected pillbox that can send a text to a patient’s phone or personal assistant (like an Alexa speaker) to remind the user to take their pill at the correct time. Some even come with bright lights that flash when it’s time to take medication.

These small, useful features can ensure that the elderly spend more time healthy and at home, and less time in the hospital.

Using AI Data to Prevent Falls

We mentioned earlier that the elderly are more prone to falls, and those falls end up being more serious due to a variety of issues.

However, companies like Qventus have begun using artificial intelligence to reduce the chance of falls, both at home and in the hospital. The first trial run of the system, performed in Mountain View, CA, lowered the amount of falls in-hospital by almost 40%. Since their initial trial, similar numbers have popped up whenever the system was implemented.

How it works: their AI program gathers data from the entire country on falls, fall risks, and combines them with machine learning to discover what devices and policies do and don’t work to prevent falls, and how effective they are. This data comes from a variety of sources, including national fall data, patient histories, and hospital EMR. It even cross-references the patient’s medication with all of this information — does a certain medication increase dizziness, or create a sense of vertigo, or weaken muscle control? This data is then factored into the fall equation in the kind of granular way only a machine can pull off.

These AI systems can then send alerts to the nearest medical tablet or cart computer, letting nurses and doctors know, in real time, if a patient is a fall risk. Since the AI is calculating this in real time, 24/7, and is using live data to do so, it can even calculate when a previously non-risk patient might have recently become a risk, due to procedure, medication, or other change.

Then the healthcare facility, working with these insights from Qventus, is able to implement proven strategies that are backed up by flawless data instead of untested institutional knowledge.

Preparing for the Future Today

We’ll all need elder care someday, if we’re lucky. We owe to current and future generations to create a healthcare environment where everyone, no matter their accessibility difficulties, can thrive.

Contact Cybernet today to learn how medical computers can facilitate telehealth services, integrate with smart homes, and in general make healthcare tech advances easier to deploy.

photo by david henrichs at unsplash

Can Smart Farming Solve the Food Crisis?

According to the “World Population Prospects” report published by the United Nations, Earth may play host to 9.7 billion people by 2050. With hunger already a problem in both developed and undeveloped nations (though at differing levels), how can food production match food needs over the next 30+ years?

Can technology like GPS, drones, industrial tablet PCs, and “Internet of Things” devices help bridge the gap between food production now and food production in the future?

Increasing the Number of Farms Isn’t Enough

Land is already at a premium anywhere with the proper climate and soil for farming, and simply increasing size may not be the best option. Environmental concerns, lack of available land, and water access could all stand in the way of a “more is more” approach.

Instead, farmers will have to increase the yield on their current farms to keep up with global demand.

Reducing Crop Waste

They’ll also have to reduce the waste — as it stands, 150,000 tons of food in the United States is wasted through either spoilage, harvesting mix-ups, transportation errors, or consumer waste. These numbers are even higher in countries with less technology, less infrastructure, and a broken “cold chain” that is unable to keep produce consistently refrigerated for long trips.

While farmers can only claim a portion of the responsibility for wastage, an increase in efficiency at the growing and harvesting level could massively increase effective yield. It will also mean that the water, fertilizer, and time being wasted on crops that end up in the garbage will be better used elsewhere.

Smart farming technologies are perfect for increasing efficiency, yield, and reducing waste.

Agricultural Drones

With farming, as in all things, knowledge is power. The power to increase yield, reduce waste, and in general do more with fewer resources. To this end, gathering data is key.

Using drones for agriculture is one of the many new applications for unmanned vehicles.

For Gathering Information

Agricultural drones analyze soil properties, cataloging data like soil erosion, moisture levels, and nitrogen content, and they do it all from the air and at a far greater speed than a person taking samples on the ground. This reduces time spent gathering this data by hand, and does it far more accurately and with a larger sample size.

With this data, a farmer would know where irrigation is problematic before it becomes a problem, or figure out which area is in desperate need of fertilizer before the crops start to yellow.

Some drones even use infrared sensors to detect how green crops are, detecting signs of unhealthy or diseased crops while there’s still time to do something about them.

For Protecting the Crops

Some drones can even be fitted with sprayers, and are far more accurate than most mass crop dusting methods for distributing pesticide. This accuracy also generally means they use less pesticide, which is good for the budget and for the environment.  

The best part is that many of these agricultural drones don’t require special control gear. Instead, a rugged industrial tablet PC or industrial all-in-one computer can be used as a control device, offering up photos, video, and all of the data collected in the drone’s flight.

All of these drone tools really come down to one purpose — keeping crops healthy and alive no matter how large the farm, thus reducing waste and increasing yield.

RFID Tags for Tracking Livestock

“Radio-Frequency Identification,” or “RFID,” is used in industry and hospitals to keep track of inventory, important assets, and (in the case of healthcare applications) even people and their conditions.

Improving Animal Health

Tagging livestock can provide many of the same benefits. A farmer with an RFID equipped industrial tablet can scan the RFID chip on the animal in question and get a full report of activity for that animal.

When was the last time it was vaccinated? Is it time for a check-up? What about cleaning, or milking, or when it’s mating season is? How has its weight changed compared to last year? Compared to the average weight of all other livestock?

You could even use livestock tags to track pregnancy and general population growth. Traits and genetic markers (both positive and negative) could be tracked through livestock “family lines,” providing more info about what to expect with each individual animal. This could be especially useful when animal husbandry is actually part of your business, like horse breeding.

Sick animals can be identified and separated according to their needs, and thus easily identified by their ID tag. Their treatment could also be logged alongside their ID, so a quick scan can tell a vet exactly what’s been done (and what still needs to be done). Even medication frequency, and a log of medication use, could be slapped right alongside all of the other data on the animal.

Healthier Animals Means Higher Production

While all this could certainly be documented in the past, being able to just hold up an industrial tablet to the cow or horse and find out everything about them in seconds is a far more efficient and user-friendly method.

With this level of care and health monitoring, livestock are more likely to live longer, be healthier, and produce more. And since food production is going to have to step it up to meet demand, RFID tags could have a long-lasting effect on yield in the meat, egg, and dairy industries.

Smart Farming with the Internet of Things

Drones can be expensive, so when looking for smart farming solutions there are plenty of small, connected devices that can perform similar operations.

Soil Sensors

Soil sensors can be placed in strategic locations around the farm and can feed regular updates on H2O and nitrogen content right to a device like an industrial tablet PC. The data won’t be quite as detailed as aerial drone data, but it’ll still give a great picture of the soil composition without breaking the bank.

This data can reduce resource consumption — why water an area that’s already plenty moist? Or, on the flipside, maybe a section that isn’t scheduled for watering is unseasonably dry. Having that data at your fingertips could save an entire field of crops that might have otherwise died.

Weather Stations

Weather sensors and weather stations can be placed around the fields, providing up-to-the-second data on wind speed, wind direction, temperature, and humidity. Connected sensors, like the soil sensors above, can beam the information right to the farmer’s tablet or anywhere they’ve mounted a touch panel PC for other farm operations.

Having an accurate picture of the current weather could improve pesticide spraying operations, crop watering, and a hundred other processes.

Over the long term, the weather data can be collected and used to predict future trends, as well as to help calculate why certain years may have had different crop yields.

This kind of information can even be shared with other farmers, creating a fully connected community.

Feeding the Future

Sustainable farming practices and smart farming technology could provide for the additional 2 or 3 billion people coming our way without even digging up another plot of land.

To learn more about how industrial tablet PCs and the internet of things can improve smart farming, contact Cybernet today.

telemedicine image on phone

Reducing Unnecessary Hospital Visits with Telehealth

It’s no secret that medical facilities are understaffed, overcrowded, and often underfunded. Patients seem to be shipped in by the truckload, and factors like staffing shortages and doctor burnout have many professionals worrying about increased wait times and decreased patient satisfaction.

Unnecessary hospital visits only expound these common problems, choking up emergency departments, urgent care facilities, and even doctor’s offices with patients who would have been just fine at home.

Luckily, the industry of telehealth has made great strides in reducing these visits, especially in the fields of home care, telemonitoring, and chronic illnesses. Add to that the possibility that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) may be expanding the number of telehealth services covered by Medicare, and you’ve got a full-blown industry boom brewing.

But how can hospitals and medical practices leverage telehealth to save time, money, and mental energy?

Where is telehealth most effective?

Telehealth Reduces Nursing Home Hospitalizations

Nursing homes are only growing more crowded as one of the largest generations — the Baby Boomers — age. And since the elderly are frequently hospitalized for numerous different reasons, nursing homes are a perfect launching point for telehealth services.

Some nursing homes have already partnered with medical groups and vendors to use long-distance doctor’s visits to lighten the load on nearby hospitals.

Central Island Healthcare, a nursing facility in New York, had telemedicine experts train their nurses. These nurses were then able to use medical tablets and medical grade PCs to give their nursing home residents long-distance doctor visits without leaving their rooms. Instead of constantly shuttling nursing home residents to and from hospitals, the nurses were able to help the patients get diagnosed and even prescribed medication over a Skype-style video chat with a doctor.

This reduced hospital visits of nursing home residents from 25 a month to 14. Doctors, over medical computers, were able to see the patients and help them, but without all of the attendant hassle for both parties.

Another added benefit of telehealth for elderly patients — they’re unlikely to contract a nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infection from the comfort of their own rooms. And considering that the elderly are typically at the most risk from common hospital-acquired infections like pneumonia, telehealth could literally save lives.

What About Nursing Hotlines? Do They Work?

Perhaps one of the earliest forms of telehealth is “telephone triage,” more commonly known these days as a “nurse hotline.” Nurse hotlines allow patients to call a number — usually provided by their insurance — to get quick medical advice from a nurse.

There’s little doubt to their efficacy — a study by the University of Southampton in the UK found that a well-staffed nurse hotline can reduce the number of both ambulance dispatches and hospital admissions in the area, with a relatively low error rate.

However, telephone triage lacks the greatest strength of modern telehealth: nurses aren’t allowed to diagnose conditions or prescribe medication. For those procedures, a doctor is required.

Plus, the nurses are only able to talk to the patient over the phone, and can’t see them or be shown symptoms or wounds. And while nurses are incredible at their jobs, that’s a difficult position for any clinician to be in. Modern telehealth devices far surpass the limitations of a simple phone call, and smartphones, tablets and computers can all be used to upgrade the old telephone triage hotlines into full-scale telehealth services.  

Telehealth Monitoring Leads to Fewer Visits to the Emergency Room

Close to 75% of all healthcare expenditures are spent on chronic illnesses. They’re also the cause of 70% of the deaths in the United States.

However, telehealth monitoring may be a highly effective weapon to combat this problem. Telehealth monitoring uses a device to record vitals like heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. A home monitor that is integrated with a medical device computer then sends the information to the doctor, who is able to monitor sudden drops and changes. With doctors receiving real-time updates, it’s far easier to treat flare-ups and complications of a patient’s diagnosed chronic illness.

This monitoring can also take the form of digital doctor’s appointments, where the doctor speaks to the patient over a video call. The appointment then goes much like any regular in-person visit, especially when the doctor already has all the patient’s vitals courtesy of the telemonitoring system.

An exhaustive report of multiple studies from medical groups, universities, and hospitals found a wealth of useful data about how telemedicine, particularly telehealth monitoring, made a huge difference to cost, engagement, hospital admissions, and mortality rates for patients with chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, arthritis, pulmonary disease, and heart disease.

Over multiple studies, mortality rates from chronic diseases monitored by telehealth were reduced anywhere from 15% to 56% depending on the study. After having a stroke, patients who used telehealth monitoring had a reduced mortality rate of 25% for the first year after the original stroke.

The study concluded that a massive wealth of evidence points to telehealth “reducing hospitalization and emergency department visits,” “preventing and/or limiting illness severity,” which resulted in “improved health outcomes.”

A separate study of veterans with chronic illnesses found a 19% reduction in hospital admissions and a 25% reduction in the number of bed days. They also found that the telehealth treatment cost less, and produced excellent satisfaction scores from the veterans who used it.

What Does the Future of Medicine Look Like?

The future has already arrived for many telehealth technologies.

Dedicated virtual care centers, facilities whose sole purpose is to provide long-distance care for patients, already exist. Mercy Virtual, a dedicated virtual hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri, doesn’t have a single patient bed on the premises. Instead, nurses, clinicians, and doctors in the facility (or working remotely) communicate solely via medical computers to diagnose and treat patients.

Another sci-fi tech, virtual reality, is already being used to train doctors and perform long-distance surgery. In addition, there is some evidence that virtual reality immersion techniques, used from the safety of home, could be used by psychiatrists and patients to treat disorders like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and even intense phobias.

Obviously, some of these more advanced techniques are in their infancy, but it does show that telehealth is being taken seriously as a treatment style that could have huge positive benefits.

Telehealth Today

It’s clear that healthcare has a problem with rising costs, patient wait times, and clinician burnout. Luckily, cutting-edge telehealth technology like camera-equipped medical tablets and medical computers, along with telehealth training, could take a massive load off of overworked healthcare professionals.

Right now, only 15% of physician practices are using telemedicine. Any new technology takes time to proliferate, but with telehealth showing huge leaps in cost savings, patient health, and reduced hospital visits, it’s a technology that simply can’t be ignored.

How can your practice benefit best from telehealth? Is your medical computer equipment up to the task of the streaming, video-recording, multimedia demands of the burgeoning telehealth future?

To find our more information contact Cybernet here.