Remote Patrol: Engaging Seniors in Wireless Health Monitoring
By Stuart Long
The American population is aging. By the year 2030, the entire Baby Boom generation will be older than age 65. According to the US Census Bureau, by 2034, 77 million people are expected to be aged 65 years and older compared with 76.5 million under the age of 18.1 This is not only historic, but also a societal challenge. Both families and caregivers alike need to rethink how to best care for this aging generation and what support they will need from physicians, hospitals, and the health care industry.
This older demographic will create a drastic shift in the health care needs of many Americans. According to the National Council on Aging, about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 68% have at least two.2 Those chronic diseases place a significant burden on individuals, their families, and the health care system.
There are, thankfully, technologies both in the marketplace and under development that can help ease those burdens.
One of those technologies, remote patient monitoring (RPM), makes trips to the doctor’s office less frequent while still allowing physicians to monitor health data. RPM connects patients to their physicians through wearable monitors, sensors, and wireless communication devices, providing doctors with up-to-the-minute health data without requiring the patient to visit the office.
Remote monitoring devices and other telehealth technologies are game changers for a large portion of the aging population in our country. These devices give people the freedom they want and deserve, while avoiding costly (and often cumbersome) tests and office visits.
Reducing the burdens on the health care system is crucial in the years ahead as more and more Americans grow older and live longer. Recent studies show that by 2030, Boomers will account for more than twice as many hospital admissions as they do today. The strain on the system would be enormous, as there are projections for a physician shortage of approximately 1 million by 2020.3 More patients plus more hospitalizations minus physician personnel can lead to a tumultuous health care environment.
However, RPM can reduce readmission to hospitals by as much as 76%.4 Not only do cardiac monitors exist to detect arrhythmias, but smart sensors that detect unusual patterns of activity can prevent falls, while smart pill bottles can alert older adults to the time of day and dosage of their medications.
Of course, linking older adult to RPM systems requires that they are connected to the internet daily, and their use of the Internet has been increasing over time. The World Economic Forum reports that older Americans are more connected than ever before; approximately 70% connect to the internet and use it daily.5 Pew Research recently reached the same conclusion, finding that 58% of adults aged 65 and older say technology has had a mostly positive impact on society, while roughly three-quarters of internet-using older adults say they go online on a daily basis.6 Nearly 1 in 10 go online almost constantly, according to the Pew Research Center.7
While the connectivity among older adults is growing, there are still challenges the health care industry, specifically the telehealth industry, must overcome when it comes to engaging the Boomer community. The main challenge? Patient compliance and education.
A recent study by the White House Task Force on Research and Development for Technology to Support Aging Adults reported that the “adoption of technology by older adults is also driven by value and affordability, accessibility, independence, and confidence.”8
One of the most important factors that leads to increased adoption listed in the report is ensuring enough research is done in developing the product to understand the needs and backgrounds of the entire potential user population.
So that older adults can fully reap the benefits of RPM, patient education must be a priority to ensure compliance and true understanding of the technology and its use. Device cost and data security are other factors that must be addressed before overwhelming adoption by older adults is achieved.
For wearable sensors, design input should include an assessment of the appropriate sensor size and the need for compatibility with human tissue, especially for systems to be used over an extended period of time. It should also strive, when possible, to deliver truly noninvasive solutions.
Remote medical devices carry a tremendous amount of personal data between patient and physician, which leads to the temptation for cyber thieves to steal the data and/or the patients’ identities. A recent alert from the FDA reported that some cardiac implants could be hacked from as far as 20 feet away.9
In order to ensure the highest levels of cybersecurity, all health care stakeholders must work together to advance security measures for remote devices and help educate patients on how to protect themselves. As a rule of thumb, patients should only use devices provided directly by their physicians and keep up to date with software updates to keep the devices as current as possible. New technologies, improved consumer awareness, and precautionary steps can reduce the risk of hackers accessing the data on remote monitors.
While there are still obstacles to overcome—both from a technology and user viewpoint—RPM technology is critical to the future of the health industry. RPM solutions can keep older adults healthier longer, while reducing their financial burden and the expected strain on the financial system as a whole.
The Baby Boomer generation and those who will be caring for them deserve technology that’s not only medically sound and thoroughly tested but also secure and safe. Patients are able to avoid costly office and hospital visits and can live their best life while knowing that their personal data are protected. Digital health providers must continue to work to set the industry standard and to help guarantee that the aging population will have the best technology available to them in their golden years.
— Stuart Long is CEO of InfoBionic, a digital health company transforming the efficiency and economics of ambulatory remote cardiac patient monitoring processes by optimizing clinical and real-world utility for the users that need it most—physicians and their patients. InfoBionic has designed the transformative MoMe Kardia platform to remove the roadblocks hindering faster, more effective diagnosis and decision making.
1. Vespa J. The graying of America: more older adults than kids by 2035. The United States Census Bureau website. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2018/03/graying-america.html. Updated October 8, 2019. Accessed October 24, 2019.
2. Healthy aging facts. National Council on Aging website. https://www.ncoa.org/news/resources-for-reporters/get-the-facts/healthy-aging-facts/. Accessed October 24, 2019.
3. Knickman JR, Snell EK. The 2030 problem: caring for aging baby boomers. Health Serv Res. 2002;37(4):849-884.
4. Siwicki B. At UPMC, remote patient monitoring helps reduce ER utilization and hospital readmissions. Healthcare IT News website. https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/upmc-remote-patient-monitoring-helps-reduce-er-utilization-and-hospital-readmissions. Published May 24, 2018. Accessed October 24, 2019.
5. Dahlke DV, Lindeman D, Ory MG. No longer just for the young: 70% of seniors are now online. World Economic Forum website. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/07/no-longer-just-for-the-young-70-of-seniors-are-now-online/. Published July 26, 2019. Accessed October 24, 2019.
6. Most seniors say technology has had a mostly positive effect on society. Pew Research Center website. https://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/17/tech-adoption-climbs-among-older-adults/pi_2017-05-17_older-americans-tech_2-05/. Published May 15, 2017. Accessed October 24, 2019.
7. Anderson M, Perrin A. Tech Adoption climbs among older adults. Pew Research Center website. https://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/17/tech-adoption-climbs-among-older-adults/. Published May 17, 2017. Accessed October 24, 2019.
8. Committee on Technology of the National Science & Technology Council. Emerging technologies to support an aging population. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Emerging-Tech-to-Support-Aging-2019.pdf. Published March 2019. Accessed October 24, 2019.
9. Tung L. FDA warning: scores of heart implants can be hacked from 20ft away. ZDNet website. https://www.zdnet.com/article/fda-warning-scores-of-heart-implants-can-be-hacked-from-20ft-away/. Published March 22, 2019. Accessed October 24, 2019.