Being connected to a doctor or nurse via a mobile device is a boon, especially for those who want to live away from cities. By Gary Denman
Pull words: Bluetooth-enabled ECG devices connected to a tablet device for example, can transmit data over the internet and subsequently be used for video-consultations.
While mobile devices have been in use for decades, few could have foreseen how prolific the advancements in mobile technology would be, especially over the past five years.
With the advent of the smartphone and its subsequent adoption, the nature of how we communicate and access information has transformed all industry sectors.
Following the recent announcement by Apple that a total of 40 billion iOS mobile applications have now been downloaded globally, half of which were in 2012 alone, it is safe to say the era of mobile technology is here to stay.
Few have escaped the impact of mobile technology, including the Australian aged cared industry, which boasts its own dedicated mobile application in the form of the government’s Express Plus Seniors mobile app. This enables recipients of the Age Pension to access specific Centrelink services via their mobile device.
Having entered an era of technological advancement where mobile-based voice and video solutions can now be custom-built to fit the specific needs of any industry sector, available on any device (such as smartphones or tablets); there is an enormous opportunity to embrace the full range of capabilities this type of technology affords us, and the aged care industry is no exception.
With forecasts predicting that between now and 2050 the number of people aged 65-84 in Australia is expected to more than double, with those aged 85+ expected to quadruple to 1.8 million in 2050 , it is no surprise that Australia’s healthcare system is coming under increased strain. A country as vast as ours presents a set of unique challenges when it comes to offering world-class aged care services.
An example might include the growing trend towards citizens of retirement age (and over) being based outside urban centres, away from specialist medical treatment. As the baby boomer generation continues to move toward retirement, aged care providers, and the broader aged care industry as a whole, is increasingly looking at new and innovative technology solutions, such as remote healthcare monitoring and patient consultations via an e-clinic setup, to help achieve industry excellence and best practice in an increasingly competitive and regulated market.
Collectively these technology solutions can broadly be categorised under the term telehealth.
Although telehealth as a concept has permeated the broader healthcare industry in Australia for some time, there is increased adoption in the aged care sector. While the definition of telehealth varies greatly depending on its use – diagnostics, on-going patient care, medical training – more broadly telehealth can be defined as the transfer of electronic medical data (images, sounds, video and records) from one location to another. Telehealth can also be used to support aged care administration as well as increased levels of remote residential care or home care.
Previously in Australia, there was not a viable business model in place to support telehealth initiatives on a broad scale, however, since the government’s commitment to invest approximately $620 million into this area over a five-year period, announced in 2011, the healthcare and aged care industries have been provided with an incentivised program to drive adoption; helping it to mature into a viable channel for patient and resident care.
More and more aged care facilities are seeing the potential of technology solutions such as video-collaboration, to overcome challenges such as: large distances between healthcare facilities; stringent privacy and security requirements to protect patient and resident health information; a shortage of healthcare providers especially in rural areas; and the ever-increasing costs of delivering resident and patient care.
In addition, aged care facilities also have available technology solutions such as video that can enable them to offer a different model of care to aged care residents, driving social inclusion of family and friends. In fact, it is likely that “telehealth suites” will become commonplace as facilities around the country seek to retain and attract new residents.
On the back of government initiatives such as the national broadband network, which has provided increased access to high-speed broadband, we have already seen rapid growth in the amalgamation of mobile devices, applications and networks.
These developments now afford us the opportunity to implement technology solutions that otherwise might not have been possible, making the likes of dedicated telehealth suites a reality for aged care providers.
Enterprise-grade applications are also being made available easily and effectively via mobile devices, and video and voice collaboration solutions are no exception. Once associated with traditional telepresence suites, high-definition video applications via mobile devices are now being effectively used to improve resident care.
One scenario that demonstrates this, involves follow-up care or outpatient care. Patients or aged care residents released from hospital after a specific procedure or operation can receive continued outpatient care by leveraging mobile devices connected via Bluetooth.
Bluetooth-enabled ECG devices connected to a tablet device for example, can transmit data over the internet and subsequently be used for video-consultations between doctors and residents, as required. Ultimately this means that doctors can monitor a resident’s recovery remotely.
More specifically, they can monitor a resident’s ECG and react immediately if that person’s heart rate or blood pressure begins to drop, by instantly launching an emergency video call with the patients using their smartphone or tablet. Aged care facilities with investments in video-collaboration solutions or those with dedicated telehealth suites, have the potential to promote these types of capabilities, which could potentially save a resident’s life.
Video-collaboration technology, hardware and software-based solutions, provides a unique opportunity to overcome many of the challenges facing the aged care industry today. Examples of how it can be used include:
* Live video-collaboration between aged care facilities and community health centres, hospitals, primary care physicians, specialists – even family and friends.
* Remote consultation/monitoring brings residents or elderly citizens receiving home-care face-to-face with healthcare providers for consultation, evaluation, and monitoring. Specialists can conduct remote consultations and prescribe treatments from their office, or on the road via high-definition video applications.
* Physicians can provide their expertise from anywhere to deliver specialty services such as TeleStroke, TeleMental Health and Primary Care.
* Correctional telehealth helps avoid costly, inconvenient, unnecessary and risky transports to hospital for elderly patients or residents who are potentially too weak to travel.
Moving beyond resident care alone, mobile-based video-collaboration solutions are also opening up ways residents can communicate with friends and family on a regular basis, fostering increased levels of social inclusion. Advancements in mobile technology have made making a video call just as easy as making a telephone call.
Extended network availability and new devices such as personal desktop video, tablets, and healthcare phones means video technology is already being incorporated as best practice in many facilities throughout Australia.
Inhibitors to wide-scale adoption have been removed through initiatives such as the NBN as we will have a reliable infrastructure to ensure reliable, fast and secure access to video-based communications, regardless of the device you are using.
Gary Denman is managing director Australia and New Zealand at Polycom.Do you have an idea for a story?
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