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News Roundup: April 14, 2014

New technology to keep seniors safer

Published by ABC 7
Carolyn Johnson
April 8, 2014

A Bay Area company is hoping its technology will allow thousands of seniors to live on their own longer, all by giving their family members and caregivers a second set of eyes.

Denise Yarmlak is already keeping close tabs on her 91-year-old mother Agnes, even though she lives 3,000 miles away in New Jersey. She's doing it with a new app on her smartphone.

"It's telling me where she is. The person dot is the last place there was motion. So she's moving between the kitchen and the living room," explains Yarmlak.

Several months ago, the mother and daughter became a beta testers of sorts for the Bay Area start up where Denise works. The company is Walnut Creek-based Safe In Home. It's the latest to apply smartphone communications to a monitoring system and one is designed specifically for seniors.

The system relies on a network of sensors that can be stuck into place without tools. Magnetic door monitors transmit a signal if someone leaves or enters the house, while a series of motion detectors track movements from room to room. Software alerts are designed to help users spot breaks in a senior's normal routine, such as a long stay in the bathroom, which could indicate a fall. Creator Jack Lloyd says the idea is to take the onus off the senior.

"Different than say an emergency button, that only works when she pushes the button and lets you know there's something wrong if she's A, wearing it and B, is still alright to push the button," explains Lloyd.

He says a separate sensors detect if a stove is left on, if the senior has left the house with his or her keys, or if a medicine container is opened. The information is transmitted via a cell signal that reaches the care giver or family member directly. The system works on a monthly subscription rate of roughly $90 to $130 a month, significantly more expensive than some panic alert systems. But the company says Safe In Home can act as a bridge, potentially delaying the need for in home care.

"If you want someone to come in for a couple of hours a day, it's going to cost you $5,000 - $10,000 a month," says Lloyd. "And that's really prohibitive for lots of people, so this is a compromise."

Yarmlak says the system has allowed her to take on more responsibility for her mom's care, despite living across the country.

"I think if it not being for this, she would be living in assisted living," she says.

The company is currently working on a data system that will create activity reports that will allow families and professional caregivers to track emerging patterns or changes in a senior's behavior over the course of weeks or months.

Home health on road to reducing readmits

Published by Healthcare Finance News
Tammy Worth
April 7, 2014

When MedPAC recommended to Congress in March that readmission penalties similar to those imposed on hospitals be applied to home healthcare organizations, the home health industry didn’t balk because it has already been working toward reducing readmissions.

“Hospitals are major referral sources to home health organizations and they want agencies that can show that they have low levels of hospital readmissions,” said H. Carol Saul, a partner in the healthcare and life science practice at Atlanta law firm Arnall Golden Gregory.

More savvy home health organizations have already been using low readmission rates as a marketing tool, Saul said. She has seen some with specialty programs focusing on clinical conditions tied to readmission penalties – heart failure, pneumonia and heart attacks.

“There is already a lot of innovation going on around this and it is one example of how the Affordable Care Act is standing some old things on their head,” Saul said.

Moving from hospitals to other providers is a natural progression, said Barbara McCann, chief industry officer for Interim HealthCare, a home care company based in Sunrise, Fla. She said she doesn’t think the industry is being “picked on”; accountability is moving from hospitals into other industries and readmissions is a logical measurement, she said.

“This is a message to the industry that we are joining the rest of the system with accountability,” she said. “That is important, and if you can’t perform, there will likely be fallout for you.”

The potential penalties wouldn’t be too unusual for the industry as there is already “soft” pressure to reduce readmissions. Other payers are tracking these numbers and hospitals are looking to partner with groups that keep readmissions low.

Because of that “soft” pressure, the industry has already implemented strategies to reduce readmissions, including increased use of telehealth services, using transition coordinators with patients leaving the hospital and filling and reconciling prescriptions as soon as possible after hospital discharge.

Going forward, said Rhonda Richards, senior legislative representative responsible for long-term care at AARP, said the industry will likely focus more on things like supporting, educating and training a patient’s caregiver and fostering communication between providers after discharge. They may also place more focus on things that tend to increase readmissions directly like tripping hazards.