The Return Of The Digital House - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
Commentary
10/9/2007
01:48 AM
John Soat
John Soat
Commentary
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The Return Of The Digital House

It isn't about Internet refrigerators; it's about facilitating the home health care of the aging population through digital technology.

It isn't about Internet refrigerators; it's about facilitating the home health care of the aging population through digital technology.James Albert, CIO of Masonicare, says we're only a couple of years away from pervasive digital technology enabling the aging, ailing baby-boom generation to live out their lives at home instead of in nursing homes or hospital rooms. Masonicare, a not-for-profit in Wallingford, Conn., is the state's leading provider of health care and retirement living communities for seniors, and Albert has been CIO since 1998. Albert shared his insights during a session here at the SIMposium conference in Memphis entitled, "Transforming Health Care Delivery and Aging Services."

The clock is ticking on the baby boom generation entering the post-65 era, the years when health care services become more and more important. And that demographic bulge will hit the health care industry hard, straining services to the breaking point. That's why digital technology is being readied to help health care providers handle that increase in demand for services by shifting the emphasis from patient care to self care -- or at least independent living. Much of that technology is available now, but in a different context. Home Depot and Lowe's are "moving quickly" into marketing home health care equipment, Albert says. Also, car companies are making "smart cars" that help people drive, like not backing up or going forward if something is in the way. We've seen the commercials for cars that park themselves, but car makers are working on vehicles that drive themselves in limited, controlled situations, Albert says.

Look for digital technology specifically to aid ailing seniors to be able to live by themselves in their homes or apartments, rather than having to stay for extended -- and expensive -- periods of time in hospitals or retirement homes. Albert offered this list:

  • Personal safety. Remember this line: "I've fallen and I can't get up."
  • Vital-signs monitors, able to be read remotely by caregivers.
  • Activity of Daily Living (ADL) monitors, such as motion sensors that detect whether someone went into the bathroom and didn't come out.
  • Reminders and alerts, such as devices that prompt patients when it's time to take medication and show them how to take it.
  • Location/navigation systems.
  • Smart appliances, using ZigBee technology, which can be programmed, such as stoves that turn themselves off.
  • Assistive devices, such as "smart" canes and walkers, and robots that can help the elderly by performing simple chores.
  • Communication devices: Cell phones, video, Internet.
  • Masonicare itself is in the process of developing "smart" apartments, with door sensors, motion detectors, and smart lights, Albert says, which they will have available soon.

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