Many seniors express an interest in staying in their homes for as long as possible as they age. As a result, the home healthcare market has seen tremendous growth, with many firms trying to take advantage of the opportunity. The Internet of Things (IoT), video conferencing, and wearable devices are now being introduced to make the desire to stay at home more of a reality. The role of connected devices was recently in the news with the launch of Apple’s newest smart watch.
The latest version of the Apple Watch includes new health capabilities like an accelerometer and gyroscope that can detect hard falls, and an electrical heart rate sensor that can take an electrocardiogram using a new ECG app. Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer, called the watch “an intelligent guardian for your health.”
Using electrodes and an electrical heart rate sensor the Apple Watch Series 4 enables customers to take an ECG reading right from their wrist through the ECG app. The app can classify if the heart is beating in a normal pattern or whether there are signs of atrial fibrillation. All recordings are stored in the Health app in a PDF that can be shared with physicians.
The fall detection feature uses an accelerometer, and gyroscope, which measures up to 32 g-forces, along with some custom algorithms, to identify when a hard fall occurs. “By analyzing wrist trajectory and impact acceleration, Apple Watch sends the user an alert after a fall, which can be dismissed or used to initiate a call to emergency services,” according to the company. “If Apple Watch senses immobility for 60 seconds after the notification, it will automatically call emergency services and send a message along with location to emergency contacts.”
Reducing falls and re-hospitalizations is a big focus for healthcare companies. Expenditures related to falls and fall-related injuries are estimated to cost billions of dollars every year and could grow to nearly $60 billion by 2020, according to the HUD.
This is not Apple’s first product for the home market, in 2016 they introduced CareKit, a software network that enabled monitoring of medical conditions at home with an iPhone. Many other large firms are also entering this market. For example, electronics retailer Best Buy agreed to acquire GreatCall, a company that develops and sells senior-friendly smartphones, smartwatches, medical alert devices, and other technology to support and extend older adults’ independence. Amazon is also exploring applications in this market through its Alexa device. Amazon has built a team within its Alexa voice-assistant division called "health & wellness," which includes over a dozen people.
These connected devices, in-home sensors and the data collected enable individuals to maintain their independent lives with a much smaller risk. Hospitals, practitioners, and healthcare device manufacturers are using the IoT to keep patients remotely connected to healthcare providers and services. By tracking patient vital signs and health status indicators using connected healthcare devices, they are improving patient outcomes, enabling providers to serve more patients, and reducing hospital visits and lowering overall healthcare costs. The idea is to streamline health management so that the user can go on living a normal life at home. In the background, the devices share readings securely, so any warning signs can be picked up, and any daily medication reminders can be proactively sent to patients.