Mar 31 2016
Data Analytics

Healthcare Has a Problem, But Technology Can Help Solve It

Overwhelmed by chronic health issues, many seniors become repeat patients, but wearables and data analytics can improve health and wellness management.

People are both living and remaining active longer. Because of advances in healthcare, they can lead healthy, independent lives well into old age. It’s up to healthcare providers to proactively monitor the wellness of seniors, including those who reside in senior living communities. For example, doctors must ensure that patients understand and follow instructions about prescription medications, exercise, diet and other wellness factors.

Adding to that pressure is the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, which penalizes hospitals with high rates of readmissions. Until recently, the ability to monitor wellness has been limited by the number of clinicians and the hours they have available. Fortunately, rapidly evolving technology could help medical personnel gather unprecedented volumes of data so they can monitor populations, including seniors and patients who have recently been released from hospitals.

Wearable devices can give healthcare providers and patients information about heart rates, exercise levels, nutrition and other wellness indicators in real time. Cloud-based analytics aggregates and analyzes the information, which reveals a more comprehensive view of patient health. This data enables doctors to detect issues earlier and treat them before they become problems.

With wearable devices and cloud-based analytics, healthcare providers can work with seniors to manage their conditions and help them remain independent and healthy longer than they ever imagined possible.

The Situation

Few prefer a sterile hospital room to the comfort of home, but keeping some patients, particularly seniors, out of hospitals can be a challenge.

As people age, they face more chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disorders. Along with a growing list of ailments comes an increasing number of medications, doctors, instructions and medical appointments that they need to manage.

The daily regimen can be overwhelming for anyone. Many seniors rely on their spouses as caregivers, but spouses are often overwhelmed by their own health issues and limitations. Add to this the emotional toll of chronic heath issues, and it’s easy to see how health conditions can deteriorate from lack of proactive management, causing some patients to keep rotating from hospital bed to hospital bed.

In 2010, the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act, citing research that found certain hospitals readmit patients at higher levels than others, facilities can take steps to lower those numbers, and more than 20 percent of Medicare patients had been readmitted to hospitals within a month of being discharged. The goal of the HRRP was to significantly reduce such readmission trends.

In 2013, the first year the penalties were imposed, hospitals faced cuts of up to 1 percent of their payments for all Medicare patients (not just those readmitted early). That rate increased to 2 percent in 2014. It was capped at 3 percent in 2015. This is a significant financial impact for healthcare providers, and it’s getting a lot of their attention.

Initially, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) considered readmissions only for three conditions: heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia. In 2015, it added chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and elective hip or knee replacement to the list. It plans to add coronary artery bypass graft surgery in 2017. These additions affect patients who are not only discharged to the home but also discharged to senior care communities such as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

In order to avoid the HRRP penalties and keep patients healthy, medical professionals are challenged with finding new ways of monitoring their patients. They need to determine how to track the health of residents in senior living communities, help them maintain their regimen of medications, communicate with them remotely and help them manage chronic illnesses.

That’s where Internet of Things technology can have a significant impact. Wearable devices can gather ongoing data about individuals’ activity, sleep, resting heart rate and a number of other biometrics related to overall wellness. These are fed into a cloud-based analytics platform and presented to individuals and their health providers. Analytic tools on the platform can proactively identify early warning signs of a potential health issue so that doctors can treat patients before it deteriorates, as opposed to waiting for them to wind up in the emergency room with life-threatening conditions.

Learn more about the technologies that proactively improve healthcare outcomes by downloading the white paper, "Helping Seniors Stay Healthy."


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