The rise of digital health is changing the way Australians receive aged care services, with the focus now on integrated, smart networks. Adelle King looks at the opportunities this presents for integrators.
When people think of aged care, they typically think of a demented nana with a busted hip living in a beige-pink building that is horribly depressing.
To a degree they would be right but technology is playing an increasingly important role in aged care both in ageing-in-place installations and aged care facilities. In fact, technology can do a lot to ensure people live longer and with a better standard of living.
According to data from the 2016 Census, one in six Australians is now aged over 65 and 2.1% of the population is over the age of 85. A study by McCrindle Research also found those aged over 65 hold 26% of private wealth in Australia, while the soon-to-retire ‘baby boomer’ generation (aged 45-64) hold 52%.
As a result, demand for a high level of aged care service is increasing and those demanding it have the level of wealth needed to support improvements. This is creating a massive market coming through for digital aged care services in both the residential and commercial sectors.
For integrators, this represents a big opportunity to capitalise on what is estimated to be a $US379 ($A475) billion global industry by 2024, according to market research firm Global Market Insights.
“The Australian Government is under pressure with the health system and has therefore been putting benefits into place that encourage people to upgrade their homes and ‘age in place’,” says Legrand national business manager for healthcare David Gittins.
“This is creating a number of opportunities for developers across the country to invest in wearable devices and smart home networks that support home care and real-time patient monitoring.”
Legrand has recently launched the Novo home IP call system, which is a new digital care phone designed to be user-friendly for both the installer and end user. It can be controlled via IP using hundreds of configurable parameters and allows for multi-programming options.
“Novo implements the latest generation of digital communication protocols, which allows it to be connected to the terminal manager on a constant basis and ensure real-time remote monitoring,” says David.
“It also simplifies the installation process and allows integrators to modify the specific configuration of a terminal or group of terminals according to the needs of the client.”
Novo was launched as part of Legrand’s Eliot range of Internet of Things (IoT) products, which are underpinned by the Microsoft Azure cloud and Azure IoT suite.
The system features wearables to monitor movement, blood oxygen and glucose levels, pulse and sleep patterns, storing the results in the cloud where they can then be easily sent directly to a health care professional.
“The results appear instantly on the display of a smart device and are automatically stored in the cloud to be e-mailed through appropriate health care professionals or family members,” says David.
The Novo system consists of the base unit, which is plugged into a power and phone socket and contains a speaker and microphone that enable users to quickly start a conversation with an operator. The second part of the system is a fall sensor, which is incorporated into a wearable pendant system. It has a permanent wireless connection to the base unit, with a wireless range of 200m. It can automatically tell when a user has fallen and will call for help. There is also a wrist button that can be pressed by users to start a call to operators.
“The Novo system is really about connectivity and linking users with a nurse, emergency response operator or their loved ones. This allows freedom for the elderly to feel confident that if something does happen they can press a button and someone will be there, in some cases, within a matter of minutes,” says David.
“It enables people to live longer in their own homes and provides confidence for all family members.”
Research has shown that people who age in place live longer than those who move to aged care facilities and according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 90% of Australians want to stay in their homes as they age.
This has prompted the Victorian Government to pilot a new program that will virtually connect elderly people with their families and support people to maintain their normal routines as they age.
The pilot began in August, providing 30,000 Victorian homes with a tablet custom developed by Gabriel Health Systems that connects to the Gabriel communications platform. This allows users to create a video link with loved ones in just one click.
Terry Crews, who invented arguably the world’s first laptop and brought telebanking into Australia, is the founder of Gabriel Health Systems and says he developed this communications and monitoring platform to help people live better longer.
“I’m 71 and the last thing I want is to spend the last 10 years of my life in an aged care facility so I started looking at what things could be done from a technology point of view that will make my life at home better,” says Terry.
“It seems that 20th Century health care was all about hospitals, doctors and medication, which kept us alive longer without any focus on how good our life would be as a result of that longevity. Now, 21st Century health care is focusing on making lives better and positioning the patient as the one who has control over their future.”
Gabriel Health System’s platform consists of a communications platform housed in the cloud and a monitoring platform based on two computers in a tablet format, which was developed locally in Docklands, Victoria. The combination of the communication and monitoring creates a simple, secure and easy to use system that can be customised at will.
The platform is focused on reducing levels of social isolation in elderly people as this can result in significant physical and emotional health issues.
“Over the past 10 years or so there has been a break down in connections between family members and particularly between grandparents and grand children. Inter-generational contact is beneficial for both sides and can help with loneliness not just in the older generation but also the younger one,” says Terry.
Communication is also the focal point of the platform because it’s non-invasive and users don’t have to worry about incorporating a range of technology into their home.
“We’re dealing with a sector who are fiercely independent and really resent anything that can infer that they’re not in control of their own lives. That’s why they don’t want to wear a bracelet or a pendant,” says Terry.
“To combat this, initially the platform goes in as a communications play, where we fix the connectivity and give the ability to connect to family members through an intercom system, creating a virtual environment. As a time goes on we introduce other technologies into the mix, such as video facial recognition that can read pulse and oxygen levels.”
Gabriel Health System’s tablet comes installed with a sim card and uses 3G to communicate with the outside world. Terry says the company chose to rely on 3G rather than the National Broadband Network (NBN) for connection because the NBN rollout has been unreliable, slow and not suited for people who are depending on it for their life.
Improving digital health infrastructure in Australia is crucial to expanding the sector and creating a sustainable health care system that can deal with increased demand and cost pressures, as well as calls for more personalised care.
Madison Technologies has begun building this infrastructure for commercial facilities through its Technical Building Services, which focuses on integrated data networks.
“Traditionally in an aged care facility, data networks were disparate, stand alone and not easily able to be integrated, which made it very difficult to get any smart or intelligent information out of the network for analytics or occupancy experiences,” says Madison Technologies general manager of Technical Building Services Paul Calabro.
“Now, Madison Technologies has developed a solution around our smart building infrastructure that allows building services to run over the same platform through fibre.”
The network is deployed through systems integrators no different to the AV world and has already been implemented into aged care facilities in New South Wales and Queensland.
“We’re getting systems integrators to work out how the systems communicate and make those networks function,” says Paul.
Digital health and digital communication has become key to the development of aged care facilities, helping to improve the efficiency of care services and patient experience.
“Aged care now is about providing a safe environment that’s open plan, where residents feel connected,” says Paul.
“The other aspect is the need for high speed bandwidth or high speed network infrastructure for patient doctor communications and non-intrusive monitoring of residents.”
While this sort of infrastructure does cost more money upfront, it brings ongoing benefits in terms of operation costs. Research by CareVision has also found that aged care providers that integrate interactive technology into the core of their operation have perceived superior service delivery and patient experience.
As Australia’s population continues to age and aged care facilities come under growing pressure to provide advanced services in an increasingly competitive environment, these centralised services will be essential.
“As the digital health sector evolves, network infrastructure and secure, reliable data networks are going to be crucial to continued development in this space,” says Paul.
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