by Stephanie Overby

Seniors Get Digital Lifeline to Remote Caregivers

Mar 01, 20123 mins
Healthcare Industry

Digital devices in the homes of senior citizens enable distant professionals to access healthcare data that is entered by the client

The Project :: Implement in-home digital wellness devices to provide remote support for seniors.

The Business Case :: Stephen Hopkins joined Evangelical Homes to launch support programs for older adults living at home. The company is one of five such providers nationwide. As vice president of wellness and home-based solutions, his task was to hire new people, such as lifestyle coaches, and introduce new systems to run a virtual retirement community. “When you’re serving people an hour or two away,” he says, “technology becomes an important tool to intervene in an effective way.”

Evangelical Homes became the first customer of Connect, a wellness device developed by joint venture Intel-GE Care Innovations. Connect enables professional caregivers to remotely access healthcare data that is entered by the client.

First Steps :: Evangelical Homes installed 30 Connect devices in 2010, tweaking the content—wellness surveys, brain fitness games, medication reminders—to suit the independent senior. “What was most important,” explains Hopkins, “was whether the platform was interesting enough that older adults felt compelled to use it every day.”

Evangelical Homes built trust by arranging visits by wellness coaches before installing the devices. “We invested early on in relationship work, because it’s not just about the tool but about seeing us as partners,” says Hopkins. Privacy was also important. “We were very transparent about where this information was going, who would see it, and our adherence to confidentiality,” says Hopkins.

Within a month, everyone used the device daily and answered the medical questions honestly. “It’s no good if they’re giving us canned answers,” Hopkins says. For example, a user reporting chronic stiffness may be limiting his movements for fear of falling, a risk factor that his wellness coach could then address.

“It was so important to figure out how you place a piece of technology into someone’s home and get them to engage with it, instead of using it as coat rack or putting it on the counter and dusting it once a week,” says Evangelical Homes CEO Denise Rabidoux. All testers opted to keep the Connect device.

Evangelical Homes installs five new devices monthly and is encouraging competing nonprofit providers to use them, too. “There are enough older adults to keep all of us busy,” Rabidoux says.

What to Watch Out For :: The Connect device is easy to install, but it has drawbacks. “It doesn’t cover the landscape of information that you need to capture to provide service to older adults,” says Hopkins. And it can’t integrate with other applications. A caregiver with a case load of 10-plus patients has to juggle several other tools to get a complete client picture.

Half of Evangelical Homes’ members lack high-speed Internet. “It’s always interesting to walk into someone’s home who’s lived there for 60 years and discover what they have connected in that big ball of wires behind the walls,” Hopkins says. Connect runs via dial-up, but as Hopkins considers member-requested functionality—Skype tops the list—faster connectivity will required.

Hopkins doesn’t advocate waiting for the perfect solution, however. “You’ve got to try something. It’s not as painful as you might think, and the outcome is worthy.”