How Assistive Technology is Changing the Home Care Sector in Ireland
The bottom line:
- The fast-paced world of technology is changing the home care sector, aided by developments in the Irish healthcare system.
- Ireland is leading the way in MedTech with developments in several areas sure to contribute to home care.
- Technology is already helping streamline home care by digitising and automating practices, helping more seniors age in place safely.
As with all tech, assistive technology for the home care sector has been coming on in leaps and bounds over recent years, quickly morphing and developing to meet a wide range of needs. With Ireland’s population ageing fast, this technology could be the answer to staffing shortages and stretched resources, helping keep more and more elders safe with fewer and fewer resources as they choose to age in place.
The use of IT in Healthcare in Ireland
Though the use of technology in home healthcare has only just started to be recognised, healthcare in Ireland has been benefitting from IT integrations for some time now, born from a need for integrated systems across the sector.
Having previously been managed through transactional operations delivered by single organisations, healthcare was disjointed with records held exclusively by the organisations that treated patients. As such, patients would need to return to these organisations to continue their treatments. If they went to a different centre or facility, they would have to start from scratch, repeating tests and therefore using valuable time, money and recourses. With patients increasingly treated by multiple healthcare providers nowadays, especially within national and state systems, the need arose in Ireland for integrated electronic health record systems to be developed for use by healthcare providers.
eHealth (Electronic Health) involves the integration of all information and knowledge sources involved in the delivery of healthcare via information technology-based systems.
An Irish electronic referral pilot programme began with a partnership with Healthlink, operational since 1995. A Secure Message Delivery (SMD) Network, it allows for eReferrals – the secure communication of health information from one healthcare provider organisation to another.
An Individual Health Identifier patient numbering system was implemented, in which all healthcare users were given a number that could be used across the entire system. As such, an EHR (Electronic Health Record) could be kept for each patient, detailing their whole medical health and testing history.
National email system Healthmail was launched, covering more than 1,000 general practitioners and support staff and 30 agencies.
3rd December 2016
Ireland’s first “digital baby” was born, one of the first Irish citizens whose health records would be stored electronically from birth.
A new national patient portal was launched that allows individuals to access their own healthcare information online, via apps or a website.
New Covid-19 online portal allows GPs to treat patients remotely.
eHealth Ireland brought into the Home with a Virtual Health Team and Attend Anywhere, a telemedicine system that allows for patients to attend appointments through video calls with the doctors they need to see.
The benefits of Telemedicine
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it huge innovation, requiring digital services to be shared and adopted across our entire lives, particularly when it comes to healthcare. While telemedicine (video appointments with doctors) has been available for years, it has only just begun being implemented on a large scale – made possible by the developments brought by eHealth Ireland combined with the need imposed by the pandemic. And it looks like it’s here to stay.
With doctors able to see more patients more regularly and have closer contact thanks to the ease of seeing them, virtual appointments help streamline the system, decreasing the stress and anxiety faced by patients with more severe health conditions or decreased mobility. However, there’s also an additional, unexpected benefit physicians have picked up on since they’ve begun using this revolutionary system: the ability to see into patients’ homes, assess their living conditions and get a better insight into their everyday lives than ever before, creating a bridge between the health system and homecare that wasn’t previously possible.
Ireland at the Forefront of Medical Innovation
In addition to virtual appointments and monitoring by doctors, Irish companies are also leading the way in MedTech, contributing to shifting healthcare even further outside hospital settings and boosting the move towards preventative care – both areas that have a significant impact on our ageing population. At the forefront of this change are several innovative Irish firms, including:
- LetsGetChecked, a virtual care company that offers over 30 different at-home tests that act as an alternative to traditional in-person medical visits;
- Swiftqueue, a company offering a self-service portal that allows patients to manage medical appointments across multiple clinic settings;
- Vitalograph, a global leader in respiratory diagnostics and clinical trials that offers remote monitoring of lung function and disorders.
Technology in Home Care
Beyond the advances in the healthcare system that facilitate homecare and connect physicians to patients’ home lives, technology plays a huge role in the daily health and safety of seniors ageing in place. Every advance made contributes to keeping them safer and more connected as they stay in their homes:
- Assistive technology includes supportive services and equipment,
- Personal alarms and movement trackers can all be integrated into a technology hub
- Mobility devices can help avoid health problems or incidents, such as a fall.
Changes in the Home Care Sector thanks to Technology
Technology brought into our homes at all levels have meant that more and more of our care can be automated, controlled and timed digitally. As the demographics of Ireland’s population changes, this will become more and more important as care services are stretched thinner and thinner.
Devices already available to assist in homecare include:
- medication dispensers that can manage and/or monitor compliance to a medication regimen
- wearable devices that monitor activity levels and provide reminders for medication or treatment protocols
- wearable fall protection belts that can sense falls, deploy protective airbags, and alert caregivers
- “smart” appliances such as refrigerators, faucets, doors, etc. that can monitor usage
- remote communication devices that allow real-time contact between patients and caregivers
- GPS trackers for patients at risk of wandering (i.e., Alzheimer’s and dementia patients) that can be put into shoes, wallets, or handbags or even ironed into clothing
The world of technology is fast-paced, evolving and developing at every turn to meet new needs. As such, the best way to break into it is slowly. Though many seniors don’t feel comfortable with much of the latest technology available, if shown how to use it with patience, one step at a time, they can often soon see the benefits to both their health and safety and are likely to adopt it into their ageing in place care plan.
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