In this article, Gavin Bashar, UK Managing Director of Tunstall Healthcare, discusses the benefits of smart home technology and how it can enable people to live independently at home for longer with AT Today.
The concept of ‘smart homes’ is becoming an accepted reality, with technology such as smart speakers and smart boilers becoming commonplace. Technology adoption is also evolving rapidly, with older age groups (55-70) becoming more tech aware and open to adopting different products to support and improve their daily living needs.
Yet smart home technology doesn’t stop there. The potential for homes to harness assistive care solutions is huge. The latest generation of assistive technology can not only respond to issues such as fires and gas leaks but offers much more intelligent enhancements to people’s lives such as medication dispensers and property exit sensors.
Smart home solutions and assistive technology in particular should be installed and used where individuals are older or vulnerable – this will help to improve their quality of life whilst also making a difference to their health and wellbeing. Technology is an enabler and as more homes harness assistive care solutions and implement person-centred care, it will allow daily monitoring to be delivered more effectively to enable independence.
For example, the use of WiFi will increase contact with friends and family, reduce social isolation and provide access to online activities and services which can enhance wellbeing. Technology can also make communication between users and providers more efficient, such as using apps for reporting.
Smart home technology should always be centred on the needs and wants of the end user, so that the right care can be delivered at the right time. Technology must be developed and deployed in collaboration with the people using it, to help them live the lives they choose and remain independent.
Although more people are adopting smart home technology and enjoying the benefits, there is still a way to go before a widespread understanding of its potential exists.
This lack of understanding often hinders the adoption of smart home solutions as many people don’t realise that technology is person-centred and designed to meet a range of needs. Adoption of smart home solutions can often dramatically improve the quality of life of users. The range of products and services available is also often unknown, leading to providers and users avoiding investing in assistive technology.
Technology providers must work with social and health care professionals and the end user to make sure the potential of technology is fully embraced. Individual products, the digital switchover, cost benefits and innovation must be better understood to enable assistive technology to give vulnerable people more control over their lives.
With the social and health care sectors at a financial tipping point, it can be challenging to encourage home care providers, health and social care professionals and end users to invest in smart home solutions, such as assistive technology. Products such as individual care packages and person-centred solutions are often seen as costly, and as mentioned, the benefits are often not understood or seen as outweighing the cost of investment.
As our population grows and ages, demands are increasing on already stretched services like the NHS. Assistive technology is playing a key role in enabling increased capacity and improving flexibility to meet the needs of individuals and ensure provision of care is more proactive and predictive. Technology can enable new models of care by underpinning integration, enabling prevention and empowering people to self-manage at home.
The latest smart home solutions and assistive technology is no longer simply reactive but can also monitor and identify patterns of behaviour. Unobtrusive devices around the home can monitor and record activities such as when specific rooms are accessed and when someone goes to bed. The data is then analysed and developed into easy-to-read graphs which build up a picture of behaviour, such as how mobile someone is, how well they are sleeping, eating or bathing and whether this is changing over time. This feeds to a smartphone app, allowing daily living to be monitored by professionals and/or family members quickly and easily. This can help to identify what care and support may be needed, for example, increased visits to the bathroom could indicate the onset of a urinary tract infection, which can be swiftly treated with antibiotics at home, before it potentially progresses into something more serious which may require hospital admission.
Assistive technology can also enable remote health monitoring. Patients can use medical-grade peripherals to take their vital signs readings at home and complete their individualised health questionnaire using an app on their mobile phone or tablet. A specialist monitoring centre will then receive the data through secure transfer, enabling them to process and evaluate the results.
Anything outside of the parameters set for a specific patient will raise an alert, which is colour coded according to the level of risk. Professionals can then be contacted according to local protocol and access the data remotely to gain valuable insight into patient trends.
Round-the-clock access to patient data and early warning systems allow for speedy interventions and avoid the need for more complex and costly care. The patient may also gain more understanding of their own health and the impact their behaviours can have, which in turn will enable health and social care professionals to manage caseloads more effectively. Technology can also support people by helping them to manage their medication more effectively, which can have a significant positive impact on their health and independence.
This helps to support people in their homes, rather than in hospital or being reliant on social care services, and can improve an individual’s quality of life and allow them to remain independent for longer.
While smart home technology is becoming increasingly common in homes across the UK, there are still barriers to full adoption and integration. The transition from an analogue to a digital communications infrastructure by 2025 represents a step change in the solutions and services available. Unlike analogue systems, digital networks are ‘always on’, enabling vital information to be accessed around-the-clock by stakeholders, such as family members and/or healthcare professionals, on a shared digital platform. This data analytics is crucial to improving the preventative capability of care provision, along with the user experience, whilst at the same time reducing overall costs. Family members can also engage with the information gathered by smart home technology, for example, viewing their loved one’s patterns of activity via apps and offer support where it may be required.
Using digital technology not only broadens the circle of support available to an individual, but also improves quality of life and reduces reliance on statutory services.
As the digital transition progresses and technology continues to improve, we will see more people from all age groups adopting smart home technology to become more independent and feel safe at home for longer.
Tunstall has been at the forefront of technology innovation for the health, housing and social care markets for over 60 years. Its pioneering software, hardware and services enable new delivery models which can transform community-based health and social care and enable people to live independently and with an improved quality of life.
Tunstall works with social care providers, healthcare services, retirement living providers, and nursing and care organisations in 38 countries, improving the lives of millions of people, including those living with dementia, learning disabilities, physical disabilities and long-term health conditions.
Gavin Bashar joined Tunstall Healthcare in November 2018. He has over 27 years’ experience in healthcare, most recently as Head of the EMEA and APAC businesses of Hermes Medical Solutions, a lead player in the diagnostic imaging reconstruction software industry. Prior to this he worked at Cutera and over a 20-year period held various leadership roles within GE Healthcare. His focus is on continuing to shape the business to meet the evolving needs of its customers and increase the use of connected care and health technology to enable more person-centred and proactive models of care which both improve quality of life and deliver efficiency gains.