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mHealth and Seniors: ATA to Shine a Light on Home-Based Monitoring

Next week's American Telemedicine Association annual conference in Minneapolis will tackle, among other things, telehealth platforms for seniors.

By Eric Wicklund

- America’s fastest growing population – its seniors - is pushing healthcare to help them age gracefully, and healthfully. And they’re turning to telehealth to make that happen.

With the American Telemedicine Association convening in Minneapolis next week for its annual conference and trade show, a lot of the talk in education sessions and the exhibit hall will be on topics like care coordination, population health and remote patient monitoring. Today’s shifting healthcare landscape is compelling providers to extend care outside the walls of the hospital and into the home, to help patients maintain their health and stay out of the ER.

That’s music (easy listening, of course) to the ears of seniors and their caregivers.

"The way that people age is changing," Jo Ann Jenkins, chief executive officer of the AARP, told attendees at last year’s HIMSS Connected Health Conference. Seniors are not only living longer, she said, but being more active and health conscious – "living in different ways" that require new approaches to health management. 

So expect terms like “aging in place” and “senior care coordination” to pop up in conversations throughout the Minneapolis Convention Center, where the ATA stakes its claim through Tuesday. And expect the talk to focus on telehealth tools and platforms that keep seniors in their homes (or senior care facilities) and on their feet, rather than in hospital beds.

READ MORE: Telehealth Trends: Telemental Health, Direct-to-Consumer Care

The primary challenge, of course, is cost. Most healthcare-facing remote patient monitoring programs are expensive and tied to clinical issues, such as post-acute care. Reimbursements for home monitoring or chronic care management programs are growing, but still on the light side.

“Really making something work takes a lot of work and, quite frankly, takes a lot of creativity,” says Ted Spooner.

Spooner is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of RespondWell, a telehealth provider focusing on both online physical therapy services (for the rehab market) and preventive care, such as home monitoring for fall prevention. Spooner started as a game developer, designing products for the XBox like My Fitness Coach before pivoting to healthcare and, more recently, senior care.

Spooner sees the market evolving from consumer-facing Personal Emergency Response Services (PERS) – remember the push-button devices that seniors wore around their necks to summon help? – to mHealth packages that include wearables, smart devices in the home and an online platform that connects the senior with his or her caregivers, be they family, friends or healthcare providers.

“The technology has evolved significantly” from the I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up days, he says, pointing to platforms that now can monitor activity like bathroom and refrigerator use and doors opening and closing, along with biometric information from wearables and smart devices and an online social media channels to keep seniors in touch with their loved ones.

READ MORE: mHealth, Telehealth Providers Target Growing Senior Care Market

With RespondWell, Spooner markets a telerehab and fall prediction platform to healthcare providers, more and more of which are eyeing the space as part of their Accountable Care Organization strategy. His focus is on medical grade devices and data – rather than Fitbits and Jawbones – because he’s offering a platform aimed at helping providers improve care management in the home.

On the consumer-facing side, there are companies like MobileHelp, which got its start in the PERS field and is now incorporating mHealth services to the platform – and at the same time connecting with healthcare providers. Company CEO Rob Flippo sees his market in chronic disease and long-term care management.

“Consumer and healthcare data are different,” he says. In other words, while the kids might like to know what grandma is doing at any given time or whether she’s eating well and watching TV at the right times, a care team coordinator wants to know about movement, sleep, bathroom use and any changes in routine that might indicate stress or discomfort.

Likewise, it’s not enough just to collect data any more – with healthcare in mind, that data has to go somewhere and be analyzed. In the future, as more and more wearables, smart devices and platforms are introduced into the ever-evolving smart home, everything will need to be gathered in one central location, for easier storage and transmission.

Flippo sees the market evolving as healthcare – and payers – take an interest in home monitoring. But the entry point has to be simple and cost-effective. That’s where he says he has an advantage.

READ MORE: Blue Cross Blue Shield of GA Offers Maternity Telehealth Program

“There are efficiencies that are required to be successful on the consumer side,” he says.

“The winners are going to be companies that pull simple solutions together” and integrate with an ecosystem of trusted devices and platforms, he adds. To catch providers’ interest, data integrity is a must, as is FDA approval. 

Will the interest be there at ATA? Certainly - after all, everyone eventually becomes a senior.

Dig Deeper:

Using mHealth to Help Seniors Age in Place

ATA Lobbies Medicare for More Telehealth Reimbursement



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