COVID puts smart home tech to the test

An aged care information technology conference has heard how providers used IT during COVID to ensure home care clients were adequately monitored during lockdowns.

An aged care information technology conference has heard how providers used IT during COVID to ensure home care clients were adequately monitored during lockdowns.

Adam Jahnke

This week’s ITAC 2021 virtual conference came in the wake of both COVID-19 lockdowns and the release of the aged care royal commission’s final report, so it was fitting that it was themed around transformational change.

VMCH Strategy and Innovation Advisor Chris Coughlan said the Victorian-based provider turned to technology when case managers became concerned that home care clients were cancelling services.

VMCH chose the Umps Smart Home system, which it previously already rolled out in a limited trial, and which is based on the use of “smart plugs” for appliances like fridges, kettles, TVs and lamps that pick up patterns of daily use and alert carers if there’s any deviation.

Mr Coughlan said VHMC also noted inquiries about services declined during lockdown, so staff were quickly upskilled so they could comfortably explain the technology and were put to work contacting 130 clients in the first three days about using it.

Two thirds of the clients contacted either said they immediately wanted to take the tech up or wanted more information sent to them, Mr Coughlan said.  

Raising the alert

Umps co-founder Adam Jahnke told the conference how the system was able to alert a woman that her 88-year-old mother was opening the fridge less frequently than usual, and hadn’t used the microwave.

The woman went to check on her, and found she was seriously ill. She was diagnosed with pneumonia and hospitalised.

The platform was able to monitor and track the woman’s return to health over five weeks after she left hospital.

“This is just one example of how Umps raises alerts, but it demonstrates how important it is to enable these sorts of opportunities for intervention and care,” Mr Jahnke said.

Using artificial intelligence

During COVID Melbourne provider Baptcare conducted a trial of the HalleyAssist AI platform in a study involving 13 participants.

Kate Flight

The system uses an array of sensors around the home which are connected to a wireless AI-enabled hub. Much like Umps, the system ‘learns’ what an older person’s normal daily routine looks like and feeds data back to family members and carers via an app. It also has a fall detection system that doesn’t put the onus the older person to wear or activate a device.

Baptcare’s Risk Compliance and Improvement Co-ordinator Kate Flight said the HalleyAssist’s AI successfully detected changes in behaviour during the eight week trial.

“Normal weekly routines were disrupted, very few participants were leaving the house, shopping was being delivered, appointments were being cancelled,” she said.

“This change in behaviour was being detected by HalleyAssist.”

In once case the system picked up reduced activity in a user’s walk-in wardrobe, related to the participant leaving the house less frequently. Ms Flight said this was because the user wasn’t accessing her “going out” clothes.

“While this is an alert that is considered medically unimportant, in this case AI has detected a change in behaviour secondary to the COVID-19 restriction,” she said.

“In other instances the change in behaviour may be due to a deterioration of mental health, reduced mobility, decline of medical condition or physical function.”

The provider also noted an increase in falls thanks to the system, and was able to redirect allied health services.

Ms Flight said the study showed how that the technology could reliably detect falls, and how real time data can aid clinical decision making and help with staff management.

A health economics study also demonstrated benefits of the technology to families, providers and government, she said.

“The need for this technology is definitely there and funding this technology will be able to support people living at home for longer with peace of mind for both themselves and their families and carers,” Ms Flight said.

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Tags: chris-coughlan, halleyAssist, itac, kate-flight, news-2, umps,

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