The Coalescence of the Health Care-Sensors Market

E-mail Tom Kevan

For years, the health care industry, medical research organizations, and high-tech manufacturers have developed and tested sensor-based devices that greatly enhance the care that can be given to the sick and elderly. What has been missing is a market that can support the cost of extensively using these groundbreaking technologies. But forces are mustering that can bring sensors into the health care industry's main arsenal.

The Technology
New products on the market are proving that sensors can enable faster and less-intrusive health monitoring. One such technology called QuietCare provides early detection and warning to caregivers with 24/7 information and alerts about the safety and well-being of elderly or other at-risk individuals. The system uses wireless sensors positioned throughout a person's residence to learn normal daily living patterns, such as meal preparation, bathroom use, and the person's morning wake-up time and overall activity. QuietCare identifies potential medical emergencies, such as possible bathroom falls, and automatically alerts caregivers, permitting them to provide early intervention.

As the capabilities and benefits of these technologies become apparent, a growing number of organizations are voicing support for further adoption.

This past summer, Ecumen, which operates independent and assisted-living communities, care centers, home health care, and a wide variety of community-based services, announced that it was endorsing the use of Living Independently Group's QuietCare across its network of owned and managed communities.

Ecumen completed a pilot project during which QuietCare monitored residents in their apartments. The pilot showed that QuietCare significantly enhanced the quality of life for residents and enhanced the efficiency with which care was delivered to them.

At about the same time, the Center for Aging Services Technologies issued a report at a White House conference saying, ""We envision a day in the not distant future, where noninvasive, low-cost technologies in a home will enable older adults to remain independent longer and reduce their utilization of professional healthcare services. For example, by placing 'invisible' sensors in strategic locations around the home, a family or professional caregiver could monitor remotely the activities and status of a senior living alone or in an assisted living or residential care facility." The document went on to discuss how sensors are being combined with other technologies, such as RFID, GPS, and PDAs, to further enhance care and enable the elderly to live in dignity while staying connected.

The Market and Buying Power
As the capabilities of sensor products are enhanced and proven, and as their worth is acknowledged by prominent health care organizations, the pressure to define a market that can afford to use the new technologies grows. In a recent press release, MedAmerica Insurance Company did just that by identifying the Baby Boomer generation as the market and by pointing to the changes that insurance companies may bring about that could financially support the use of cutting-edge sensor technologies.

"The aging Baby Boomer population will likely be able to use an even deeper level of this [sensor] technology," comments Patricia Bomba, M.D., F.A.C.P., geriatrician, and medical director for MedAmerica Insurance Company. "If they can afford to install wireless sensor networks in their homes rather than hiring a home health aide for daily visits, they could prolong independent living."

MedAmerica pointed out that the expense of using this technology might limit who can access it. "In the future, more and more cutting-edge technologies will reach the market that are not covered by traditional long-term care insurance policies on the market today that require patients to pay for services up front, and then submit receipts to the insurer for approval and, hopefully, reimbursement."

The insurance company's answer to this challenge was to develop an affordable new type of insurance policy that guarantees a cash benefit for the insured to use however they decide. Thus, MedAmerica's CareDirections Simplicity product could cover cutting-edge technologies not provided for by more traditional insurance policies and ensure a market for these high-end products.

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