The urgent need for home-care technology for seniors
In this series, AMS Healthcare addresses the challenges facing healthcare today – particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The AMS Community promotes compassionate care, development of the leadership needed to realize the promise of technology and the understanding of how our medical history influences the future of our healthcare. A new piece will be posted every Friday on Healthy Debate.
The devastation that COVID-19 has wrought on long-term care homes (LTCHs) could have been mitigated with effective use of technology.
More than 80 per cent of all COVID-19 related deaths in Canada have occurred in LTCHs. This issue hits close to home for me as I know a handful of elderly people and those with underlying health conditions who have contracted COVID-19 in LTCHs, where there is an increased risk of contagion as people often share rooms and are in close contact with staff.
For-profit LTCHs coupled with Ontario funding cuts for public health programs such as inspections have exacerbated the spread of COVID-19.
The number of elerly people in Ontario and Canada is increasing and they must be provided with appropriate care that helps them transition into new stages of life without having their well-being compromised. In tandem with appropriate policy measures, the promise of technology can truly have a positive effect on patients, personal support workers (PSWs) and society by fostering compassionate care.
Digital health technologies can be stress-free and easy to use, especially once patients are educated on their uses. Two main technologies used in home care are telemedicine (using telecommunications to provide medical information and services) and emergency response health monitors (integrated devices that allow patients to call for help quickly). Both of these technologies increase the quality of care provided and are efficient ways to record the health data of patients from the start of a crisis.
Telemedicine can be used to reduce the physical interaction between PSWs and patients, which could have better prevented the spread of COVID-19 at its initial stages. The integration of telemedicine would have extended compassionate care to rural areas where healthcare facilities are limited and overburdened and allow all patients to receive compassionate care. By teaching patients how to utilize remote patient monitoring aspects of telemedicine, both user acceptance and competence would increase. Further, emergency response health monitors such as panic buttons and fall detectors would have allowed more people to stay in their homes, keeping them out of LTCHs and allowing them to isolate from the rest of society.
The care delivered in hospitals and LTCHs has become increasingly high-tech and expensive for families and governments. Both hospitals and governments have failed to build a system of companionate care as policies focus on spending cuts. Funding has not kept up with an aging and growing population.
Investing in telemedicine platforms could ensure that the elderly get the support they need – from prescriptions and groceries to mental health support. Additionally, emergency response health monitors can give patients a sense of autonomy, allowing them to stay at home while still feeling safe.
Provincial governments need to provide technology education to the elderly and their families and distribute machinery accordingly. This would allow the healthcare system and both provincial and federal governments to create savings in energy consumption and transportation, all while benefiting patients. However, this would only occur if the priority of governments (through their time, efforts and resources) are placed into telemedicine and technology platforms more broadly rather than aiming to save money in the short run.
It is time to come together and transition into a new way of life that allows compassionate care to be widespread and accessible.