Digitizing Homecare in Germany & Europe - ready or not?
What are the current developments in digital solutions for home care and what leading technologies are currently emerging?
Healthcare is undergoing a transition. With a renewed focus on patients and health outcomes, at-home care is in the spotlight again. For MedTech companies, it means new opportunities to create devices for patients and their caregivers to use at home, and to consider the convenience aspect of patient care.
MedTech companies are already recognizing the advantages of at-home solutions. For patients, devices that enable at-home care can make treatment more convenient and comfortable. But there are advantages for healthcare providers and payers, too: Lower costs compared to inpatient care. Providers get earlier detection of side effects due to remote monitoring, continuous assessment, and real-time reporting. Patients have improved outcomes for some treatments. Convenience for patients and caregivers to avoid in-person visits. Better experiences for patients, with scheduling that suits them, care that minimizes the impact on their daily lives, greater comfort, and more agency over their own health.
Before shifting our focus towards the future of homecare technology, it’s crucial to identify and understand the users and targets of homecare services.
- Elderly individuals who need assistance with activities of daily living
- Individuals with chronic medical conditions, who require ongoing monitoring and management of their health..
- Individuals recovering from surgery or an injury who need help with rehabilitation exercises, wound care, or medication management.
- Individuals with disabilities who need support with mobility, personal care, or communication.
- People with cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s or dementia who need help with daily activities and memory aids.
The following technologies are simply examples to illustrate the existing and future possibilities of homecare technology. It’s important to note that technologies and features used in homecare services may vary based on those target users and specific needs.
Automating data collection and storing patient data: Helps smooth running of homecares, speeds up the client intake process and simplifies the management of care plans, helps storing and sorting your caregivers’ and caregiver candidates’ information
Digital tracking and management solutions: that helps keeping track of the employees’ performance, schedule and assign care visits, automate billing and payroll, and more.
Remote monitoring & telehealth: Technologies that allow patients to receive care from the comfort of their own homes through virtual consultations with healthcare providers, remote monitoring of vital signs, and video conferencing.
Wearable technologies: Wearable devices such as smartwatches, fitness trackers can track patients’ activity levels, heart rate, fall detection, urine detection and other health metrics, providing valuable data for healthcare providers. They can be for diagnostic, imaging or notifying purposes.
IT systems and solutions (in general): touch screens, color display systems, tracking systems, real-time transmitting systems
Medication management: by offering personalized medication reminders, monitoring adherence, and keeping track of medication schedules. This is especially useful for patients who have complex medication regimens or those who experience memory or cognitive difficulties.
Expected leading technologies to emerge: Depending on the target user, the technologies may differ. In general, AI and ML is expected to improve to analyze extensive patient data to offer personalized recommendations for care, assist in diagnosing and predicting the course of a disease. IoT devices, like smart home sensors and wearables, can expand their features to collect real-time health data for healthcare providers, offering valuable insights. VR/AR technologies have the potential to transform homecare by providing immersive patient experiences and allowing remote training and education for healthcare providers.
Regarding the elderly, we might see social robots that can help to provide companionship and support for elderly individuals, particularly those who are living alone.
Check out some of the IoT solutions that our IoT+Network members have developed, all with great benefit potential for home care.
What are the challenges and hurdles in implementing such solutions?
Generally, at-home care is not as straightforward as simply recreating a hospital room at home. Instead, care needs to be designed for patients and caregivers specifically for the home environment. There are several challenges and barriers that need to be addressed in order to successfully implement digital solutions for homecare. Here are a few examples:
The home environment is not a hospital: Existing clinical devices are designed to be used by trained clinicians. Often complex and multifunctional, they are not meant to be operated by the patient or an at-home caregiver. Also, this approach can lead to the home being turned into a clinical setting—with equipment, consumables, supplies and medical waste. This is an added burden for patients who would need to order supplies and manage inventory, medical waste and delivery schedules..
Technical challenges: In a home care setting, the people using the devices often lack digital platform experience. While clinical solutions are designed for trained professionals, at home patients include seniors, many with declining mobility, eyesight and cognitive abilities, and those with limited technical savvy.
Regulatory requirements and risk adversity: MedTech manufacturers must be prepared to meet a wide range of region-specific regulatory restrictions. Although manufacturers are familiar with requirements for current medical technology, introducing the use of devices at home adds a new level of complexity.
Infrastructure and education: For devices to be used at home, patients and caregivers will need training in both the operation of the equipment and procedures around therapy delivery. This includes safe use of the devices, as well as reporting of vitals and therapy information.
User experience: It is crucial for the design of technological solutions to prioritize user-friendliness, intuitiveness, and accessibility to cater to individuals of all ages and levels of digital literacy. If the interface of these technologies is complex or confusing, it can impede their usability, ultimately decreasing their effectiveness in providing healthcare solutions.
Privacy and security concerns:n: Digital solutions for homecare often involve collecting and sharing sensitive personal health information, which can raise privacy and security concerns. It is important to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect patients’ privacy and prevent data breaches.
Digital divide: The adoption of technological solutions for elderly homecare can be hindered by various factors such as lack of digital literacy or lack of access to digital solutions.
Resistance to change: Some individuals may be reluctant to embrace new technologies, especially if they have been relying on traditional methods for years.
Cost: The expense of implementing and sustaining these technologies can pose a substantial obstacle, particularly for individuals who may have limited financial resources (eg elderly).
Taking the European view: Is Germany far behind?
The German government has identified the ICT sector as a crucial area of focus, as indicated by the Digital Agenda of the BMWK, a policy document that outlines Germany’s approach to economic and innovation issues. The Digital Agenda centers on various aspects of the digital realm, including digital infrastructure, digital workplaces, digital environments in society. In recent years, there has also been significant growth in the field of Health IT. To further illustrate, Germany proposes Digitale Gesundheitsanwendungen (DiGa), mobile health applications that fulfill specific criteria defined by the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices in Germany. Once approved, these apps can be prescribed by healthcare providers to patients and are reimbursable by the statutory health insurance scheme. Digitale Gesundheitsanwendungen (DiGa) and Digitale Pflegeanwendungen (DiPA) are role models, and the DiGa model is adopted in France as well.
Regarding the digital solutions for homecare, Germany is not far behind other European countries. In fact, Germany is one of the relatively mature markets where the government is promoting the digitization of care and has standardized reimbursement pathways. Despite progress in digital health solutions in Germany, several barriers can be discussed such as slow adoption of digital solutions by ambulatory physicians and the lack of digital data exchange between hospitals and outpatient physicians. Other challenges may be due to complex regulations and implementation processes. In addition, as in other countries, Germany faces challenges related to data protection and privacy regulations and the need for standardized technical infrastructure. However, new legislation has been introduced to support healthcare digitization and accelerate its expansion.
“I am sure that we will have a digitized homecare with a lot of sensorics and robotics by 2050. However it is crucially important that we increase digital competence among our citizens,starting already in primary schools. Only then digital solutions like electronic nurse devices from TCC will become broad and quick acceptance on the market.”
What are the current developments in digital solutions for home care and what leading technologies are currently emerging?
First, centralizing data in homecare technologies is crucial for discovering new clinical insights. This is because it can allow for the analysis of large data sets, enhances data analytics capabilities, facilitates real-time monitoring of patient data, and encourages collaboration among healthcare providers. Ultimately, these benefits can improve patient outcomes and lead to more effective treatment strategies.
One way data can be centralized in Homecare for new clinical findings is through the creation of a centralized medical records repository that can perform data analysis and visualization. In Canada, National-level data are captured in the Home Care Reporting System (HCRS), using the interRAI-HC tools. Data in the HCRS provide decision-makers and administrators with actionable evidence to inform quality and safety improvement initiatives.
Another potential solution could be to utilize digital health platforms or electronic health record (EHR) systems that allow for the centralized storage and management of patient data.
“By integrating digital solutions into the realm of caregiving, we can empower individuals to age in place with dignity and independence. From remote monitoring and telehealth consultations to smart home devices and personalized care apps, digitalization opens up a world of possibilities, improving the quality of life for both caregivers and recipients. It’s time for Europe to seize the potential of digital innovation and pave the way for a more connected, efficient, and compassionate approach to homecare.”
Taking an outlook: How Homecare will look like in 2050?
Anticipating the precise condition of homecare in 2050 can be challenging, given the uncertainty of technological advancements and societal transformations. However, by analyzing the current trends and advancements, we can make informed predictions about the future of homecare in 2050:
- Increased use of telehealth and remote monitoring
- Greater integration of AI and machine learning that can provide personalized recommendations for care, as well as assist with disease diagnosis and prognosis
- More sophisticated wearables and IoT devices that can identify potential health risks and intervene earlier to prevent or treat health conditions.
- Expansion of personalized medicine: Advances in genomics and personalized medicin
- More focus on mental health: Homecare services can prioritize mental health care to ensure patients receive holistic care, catering to their physical as well as emotional needs. Advanced technologies such as virtual and augmented reality may be utilized to provide immersive experiences to patients and offer remote therapy sessions.
- More use of virtual reality and augmented reality technologies: to provide immersive rehabilitation and therapy experiences in the home.
- Increased use of robotics to assist with care, such as robots that can help with tasks like lifting and transferring patients, or providing emotional support and companionship.
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