Article Archive
May/June 2020

Technology: Patient Data: Turning the Predictive Into the Proactive
By Amy Jeffs
Today’s Geriatric Medicine
Vol. 13 No. 3 P. 26

Analytics offers geriatricians an expanded toolkit.

When it comes to proactive geriatric care, it’s important that geriatricians and caretakers are aware of and truly understand their patients’ situations. Caretakers are already recording plenty of data regarding their patients’ health, but there’s additional information they can collect, as well as tools they can use, to gain a more accurate understanding of their patients’ circumstances based on analytics. Aging patients reveal a lot about themselves through their moods, as well as their sleeping, eating, and daily habits—but if trends go unnoticed, a lot can be missed. When this information is collected as data and leveraged, it can be used as a proactive form of care—informing staff of potential health complications or other situations to look for.

Beginning With Basic Notations
Caregivers regularly—even if unknowingly—observe their patients’ moods. It’s hard to miss when patients are particularly happy or agitated because they can have such a huge impact on the geriatricians who interact with them, as well as on the experiences they share. But mood has an impact that goes beyond the day-to-day interactions between patients and caregivers—it also directly affects patients’ health.

Older adults are increasingly susceptible to mental health problems, especially those who are already managing other health issues, staying in extended care, or making life changes such as moving into assisted living. Often they experience increased loneliness or feelings of isolation because they feel removed from their friends and families and may be unable to participate in the activities they used to enjoy. This can take a heavy toll on their mental health, but it goes further. According to the National Institute on Aging, “research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.” Because of these implications, if a patient displays a pattern of irritability and negative moods, it should be addressed because it could result in or lead up to serious health risks.

The National Institute on Aging also notes that “depression, especially in middle-aged or older adults, can co-occur with other serious medical illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Depression can make these conditions worse and vice versa.” Not only is mental health as important as physical health, but it’s related to it in interesting and complicated ways. This is why it’s vital that caretakers don’t merely observe their patients’ moods, but actually log and record them so they have real data that can help them intervene and prevent these various health risks.

Residents in long term care and extended-stay facilities contribute a number of data points to care that staff should note, such as their daily habits. For instance, if a patient typically eats all of their meals, but begins to repeatedly skip them, or works out four times a week, then suddenly stops completely, it could be a result of a negative change in their health and wellness. Often patients won’t discuss with their geriatricians minor problems or changes because they think they’re not worth mentioning—at least not until they become serious issues. However, when patients’ behavioral changes are visible to their medical professionals through data analytics, they can still be addressed, and health issues can be caught in their early stages, rather than when it’s progressed and is harder to treat or manage.

Analyzing Trends
Another example of how collecting and analyzing patients’ data can prevent health risks pertains to something as simple as how often aging patients use the restroom. This behavior can be tracked in a variety of ways, whether it’s a bed sensor to see how often they get up throughout the night, motion detectors in or near their bathrooms, or even sensors that monitor each time the toilet is flushed. Regardless of how this behavior is tracked, the important thing is that the data is then analyzed. If a patient is shown to be getting up throughout the night to go to the bathroom or needing to use the toilet much more than usual, it could indicate the presence of a urinary tract infection, gastrointestinal health issue, or some other quantifiable problem. Catching these problems early can immensely increase their quality of life and may be the difference between life and death for many aging patients.

Other trends or behaviors that can be tracked are patients’ sleeping and activity habits, appointment cancellations, and how often they use their nurse call buttons. By collecting, tracking, and viewing these data points on an analytics dashboard, caretakers can make informed decisions and recommendations as well as ask the right questions when it comes to their aging patients’ health. Discovering some potential health issues can come from questions as simple as the following:

• “It seems you’ve been getting up a lot throughout the night. What’s keeping you up?”
• “I’ve noticed you’ve been using your call button more often. Is there a reason for that?”

Not only does asking these questions proactively, rather than waiting for them to be brought up, save valuable time for both the medical professionals and their patients, but it also improves the flow of communication between the two. The only way for a health problem to be diagnosed is with the right information, and often it’s hard for patients to know what’s important and what isn’t. But when these data are already available to medical professionals, they’re able to start a dialogue with their patients to reveal even more valuable information. This access and ability to analyze data improves patients’ quality of care and allows medical professionals to do their jobs at their best.

Cultivating a Technological Palette
But how are all of these data collected in the first place? With today’s technology, patients in extended care or assisted living facilities can be monitored by a variety of sensors, depending on what type of information caretakers are looking to collect. If they want to know how their patients are sleeping, they could use a bed/weight sensor that can indicate how often patients get up throughout the night. Many facilities also have a check-in feature that their patients use whenever they wake in the morning. These data are already being collected and can be analyzed to see changes in patients’ sleep schedules. There are numerous ways to monitor patients and different situations through a variety of sensors and other devices. Using that information, clinicians can analyze the data and proactively diagnose the situation.

Although all of these collected data are useful, it can be confusing when they’re disorganized and stored in separate places, or when caregivers don’t know exactly what they’re looking for. Trying to sift through these data manually can be time consuming; instead, the data should be aggregated on one data analytics platform. This platform can pull a facility’s collected data from various systems and automatically organize them into valuable information that it then displays for easy viewing on a dashboard. This dashboard allows users to view snapshots of what’s going on with an entire corporation, a single facility, a specific patient, and/or a specific staff member. Automating this process eliminates unnecessary stress and additional work for caregivers by allowing them to view valuable patient information that reveals patterns that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. This is especially important when it comes to predicting future issues with aging patients as well as stopping current problems in their tracks. Managing data in this way enables geriatricians to go from a reactive to proactive approach to care.

Proactive care is important for everyone, but even more so for aging adults and the professionals who take care of them. A minor health problem can turn into something much more serious for older adults, which is why it’s crucial that caretakers are ahead of the curve when it comes to their patients and their health. Once a minor problem turns into a major issue, it’s already too late and the only thing to do is to be reactive. Instead, when equipped with the right tools and the right information, caretakers are empowered and able to stop problems in their tracks—or sometimes even avoid them altogether.

— Amy Jeffs is the vice president of Status Solutions, a risk management and situational awareness technology company.