After the fall, after the ambulance, after the hospital, after the nurses and the snoring patients in the other beds, after the ambulance ride home, after the last chat about what to take and when, after the final farewell, after the door shuts, its silence.
Almost half the women in America aged 75 and over live alone. After a short stay in the hospital they will return to an empty home. Video conferencing can ease the burden of isolation and help them through the transition to a new health regime.
Video Conferencing for the Elderly
More than six per cent of people 65 and over and living at home need personal care. That percentage has held steady for more than a decade, but an aging population means the overall numbers are building steadily.
Sadly, a person’s access to healthcare drops with age, and with the incidents of serious health issues increasing–the number of Americans suffering a stroke is expected to jump by 20% by 2030–alternative ways of reaching expert help are needed more than ever.
The American College of Physicians has thrown its support behind remote-access telemedicine, stating the use of video conference technology could be more efficient than in-person care in some cases. It has even gone so far as to recommend doctors be compensated for using video in order to encourage its proliferation.
And the idea is gaining popularity among doctors themselves. Doctors in the U.S. now do more than 10 million video consultations each year to discuss a patient with another doctor.
For the elderly person recently returned from a short stay in a hospital, video conferencing could provide a quick and easy way to stay in touch with nurses and navigate through any unforeseen hassles as a result of diminished mobility or increased medicinal complexities.
Key to improving the experience is making it easy to access the technology.
Video at the Wave of Your Hand
While there are a number of free video call services currently available that require little additional tech to use, each is accessed through a computer or mobile interface and must be deliberately turned on at a predetermined time to use.
However, dedicated tablet technology, such as Google-backed bloom, offer an easier way to connect to the outside world.
Users can access the video and messaging service–which was designed with older adults in mind–through voice commands or by touching large photo icons, with no password necessary. The system serves no other function than providing video calls to people already loaded into a contact list, and it need not be switched off.
As an added feature, users can wear wristbands that let others know when they are standing by the system. It also links to smartphones, meaning nurses, caretakers, and family members can video chat using their phone any time they’re needed, no matter where they are.
The system could be set up by a health professional or by a family member when the outpatient returns home. Bloom prominently displays pictures of those available to video conference–like nurses, doctors, and family members–in a way that looks as familiar as a digital photo album, and isn’t much harder to use.
The Doctor Can See You Now
Passive technologies are also available to help caretakers keep a close eye on their elderly clients.
Sensor-based systems monitor the movements of patients within their home, and can detect any decline in daily functions, or a major disruption of a person’s regular routine. An additional study using a mobile-phone based system found the development of a two-way link detailing the movements of both patients and caregivers could help promote social connections.
By integrating both the video and sensory systems, a remote healthcare professional could closely monitor their patient’s moods, movements, and habits, and develop a personal connection that aids both physical and mental rehabilitation.
The doctor could check in at regular intervals without leaving their office, cutting the time and financial cost of undertaking multiple home visits, and sparing the patient from potentially arduous journeys to the doctor’s office. A nurse or physician’s assistant could also be on hand to guide seniors through their medicine intake (this would be especially important for forgetful patients who might not remember well the instructions they received at the hospital), check they’re eating a healthy diet, and answer any queries about newly encountered aches and pains.
Australian doctors are currently in the middle of a four-year trial of such general practitioner visits to the elderly by video conferencing. So far they’ve found the remote service can provide more timely follow-up consultations, reduce waiting times, and let the doctor conduct a remote visual assessment rather than rely on secondhand information from a less familiar source.
Health Begins at Home
And remote healthcare doesn’t need to be a purely visual experience. Depending on their physical abilities, patients can currently record their own blood pressure and heart rate and send the information to a database accessed by their doctor via wifi technology.
However, the best case for pursuing video conferencing for at-home consultations is that it ends the isolation of the elderly, a persistent problem for the health and morale of older adults. The professional healthcare support networks they currently encounter only at times of crisis will become a part of their everyday routine, with their doctor as a trusted and constant presence, a link to the wider world.
Image source: Flickr CC user Ted Van Pelt