Home healthcare technology is on the rise due to a number of factors, such as increasing medical costs and an ageing population. The number of consumers using this technology is expected to rise from 14.3 million worldwide in 2014 to 78.5 million by 2020, according to a report from digital health advisory Tractica. Are patients ready to adopt such technologies, and what types of technologies will improve patient outcomes?
The current Victorian healthcare system, for example, is facing several challenges over the next 10 to 20 years. These include lifestyle choices contributing to chronic disease, inequality between certain population groups regarding healthcare outcomes and people’s changing needs and expectations.
One way to alleviate these challenges might be to keep the chronically ill out of hospital, according to health.gov.au. For example, the federal government aims to use Health Care Homes, which use local GPs to handle patients with illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and mental health issues. These homes will be tech-enabled, collecting and sharing data to improve patient outcomes and performance. Think of Health Care Homes as halfway houses for patients that reduce the burden on health infrastructure, while giving patients the comfort and treatment they need closer to home.
Advances in telemedicine and telehealth applications will make home healthcare more accessible to patients. In combination with collaboration technology, such as text chat and video calls, these applications improve patient healthcare outcomes through shared information. Doctors and patients can see each other face to face with video call technology, which will become more accessible with the increasing affordability and availability of bandwidth. The drawbacks of telemedicine, such as increased risk of error due to poor interpretation, are also diminishing as the quality of images, video and audio improves with advancing technology.
Mobile technology enables remote patient monitoring, reducing the need for outpatient visits while allowing remote verification for prescription refills. Mobile technology combined with GPS can also keep track of physically at-risk patients such as seniors, who can use these apps to call for assistance when required.
Who will adopt?
Technology’s relevance may restrict home healthcare adoption. For example, wearable technologies don’t address the root problem of health issues. While they might monitor vital signs and patient wellbeing, they don’t solve the underlying medical problem, such as an irregular heartbeat. If the technology doesn't cure their illness, how long will it be before device fatigue sets in? Also, what incentive does the patient have to wear the technology constantly other than as an early-warning system to an unavoidable emergency?
Current constricted healthcare budgets might also restrict the home healthcare adoption. If doctors and hospitals are tight on money and have no need to update their systems, what incentive do they have to spend large sums of cash on new technology, particularly when their current systems are tolerable?
Home healthcare requires commitment from doctors, hospitals and patients to be truly effective, whether that’s through investment or integrating and believing in the technology. If properly implemented, home healthcare technology can reduce the burden on the healthcare industry, making it more cost effective as well as helping improve patient outcomes.