About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.

 How can the healthcare industry use technology to improve in-home care for American seniors?

Essay response by Jody Hinkle, Drexel University

The healthcare industry can use technology to improve in-home care for American seniors in numerous ways.  One of the critical components of having seniors living independently is their access to the outside world when they need help.  Tools that can enable quick access to doctors, family members and emergency services can support those needs.  There is tremendous opportunity with electronic programs to support access to doctors.

Setting up an interactive program with something like Skype, can enable a senior to have a face to face conversation with a health care professional without leaving their home.  This face to face discussion is important because too much can be lost in the message if you cannot see their reaction.  The health care professional will want to make sure the senior understands the information being shared with them.  For example, sometimes they may not be able to go to a doctor appointment if they don’t have transportation or are bedridden.  Bringing that health care encounter to their home via technology can alleviate these concerns and ensure they are getting test results, understand their medication or treatment plan, and so on.  If they are experiencing a new medical concern, the doctor is simply a click away.

Families can utilize similar tools to contact their senior family members to check up on them or see if they need groceries or a prescription refill picked up at the local pharmacy.  Another tool that could assist seniors is an electronic reminder “gadget”.  This tool could be a tracking device for vital monitoring and programmed to announce reminders that a senior may forget for day to day activities.  For example, it could make announcements out loud to take medications, make meals, or even to alert them if their vitals are not good and they should contact their doctor.  Physicians could even be linked into this tracking tool to monitor patients from the office and reach out to them if they see something concerning that requires medical attention.  If the tracking device would capture a potentially life-threatening event, it could detect it and notify emergency personnel and family members to ensure a response is initiated should the senior not be able to call for help on their own.

Additionally, if the senior has Alzheimer’s, a GPS type tracking device could be used to track their location.  If they would wander off, this would enable someone to locate them quickly to avoid disastrous consequences.  While we know there are already tools like Life Alert if a senior should fall and needs help, but what happens if they don’t have it on hand?  A voice recognition tool could be developed and placed in the home.  If something happens, no matter where the individual is in the home, a yell out for help would trigger actionable responses (predetermined by the program settings).  Perhaps key words could be programmed, so the system knows if it needs to contact family, a doctor or emergency assistance.

There is a lot of opportunity to build upon and develop new technology to support and improve upon the ability for seniors living in their homes.  We are in the day of technology overload; however there is still more work to do to support this aspect of daily living.  As more and more seniors choose to stay in their homes, this will be an ongoing discussion and better tools will be required for supporting those who need it to ensure home is as safe an environment as possible.

About Jody

Jody is currently enrolled in a Master of Health Administration program at Drexel University and plans to pursue a doctorate degree.

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