Mobile Health Monitoring for Seniors
New Mobile Devices Aid Senior Health Monitoring
Americans as a whole are getting older and living longer. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 40 million people over the age of 65 account for 13% of the total U.S. population. By 2030, the NIH predicts that number will nearly double to 72 million seniors. And according to the Administration of Aging, people reaching the age of 65 now have an increased life expectancy of 18.8 additional years. With that increased longevity comes many new health challenges, including hypertension, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and diabetes.
Telemedicine advances for seniors
Hospital readmissions currently cost the U.S. healthcare system $25 billion annually. In an attempt to reduce those costs, Medicare penalizes hospitals if a senior is readmitted within 30 days of being discharged. Mobile health monitoring devices can help improve patient care and lower hospital readmissions. In 2012, the American Telemedicine Association estimated that more than 10 million Americans directly benefited from telemedicine services - more than twice the number of patients from three years prior.
Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Health conducted a pilot program in 2012 that used remote video conferencing to connect nurses with discharged patients who suffered from heart failure and COPD. During the two-year study, the program reduced readmissions for participants by 75%. A 2007 study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that its telehealth initiatives resulted in a 25% reduction in the number of days of bed care and a 19% reduction in hospital admissions. The Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) national home telehealth program, Care Coordination/Home Telehealth (CCHT), uses mobile messaging devices to send text-based questions from VHA staff to home patients to assess their health status and self-management capabilities.
Recently, the Mayo Clinic began implementing a new remote monitoring system that can help doctors review data from heart patients more efficiently. Miniature sensors are attached directly to the skin to monitor the patient's heart and respiratory rate, ECG, and activity level, then the sensors send the data directly to the physician's mobile phone for further analysis and follow-up.
Emerging mobile health monitoring technologies
Each year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, hundreds of booths are dedicated to new or emerging telehealth and mHealth technologies. These mobile devices are especially attractive to hospitals, clinics, doctors, and other health care providers, because of the potential to provide better off-site, up-to-the-minute patient data, which can help catch health problems early and keep seniors out of the emergency room.
Some of the new mobile apps for seniors that are currently available include:
- Diabetes monitors. New apps track food consumption and medication use, which can affect blood glucose levels. Other apps send alarm-based medication reminders and connect diabetics to online interactive forums.
- GPS trackers. These GPS apps can help family and caregivers locate seniors with early-stage Alzheimer's disease or diabetics with low-blood-sugar levels who might get confused and wander off.
- Medication trackers. This type of app keeps track of prescriptions, so each medication is taken at its scheduled time.
- Pain monitors. Patients use these apps to register pain levels at different times by simply tapping easy-to-understand icons, instead of typing text.
The future of mobile health monitoring looks bright. There are more than 8,700 health-related apps currently available for a variety devices, according to The Wall Street Journal. George Halvorson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente, thinks that accessing health information on mobile devices will soon become the "new norm."