Latest Thinking

The journey from self-care management to virtual care for all

August 20, 2014

Christopher Sutton, Jelena Vatavuk

Home health monitoring (HHM) technology is having a major impact on the chronically ill. Imagine its limitless potential if applied to promote healthy lifestyles for anyone at any age.

It is no surprise that a growing requirement of creating a proactive and patient-centered approach in healthcare will lead to healthcare technology following a similar trend. Although home health monitoring is an excellent first step in preserving patient independence, increasing access to care, and providing safe and cost efficient solutions for a largely senior population, tackling sub-acute and younger and younger populations for self-monitoring is certainly achievable. In an effort to reduce the growing number of patients with chronic illnesses, it is natural to expect technology to shift into being a pro-active, rather than a re-active solution.

Home health monitoring and management solutions have the opportunity of expanding into specific demographic populations, beyond addressing aging populations and individuals with chronic illnesses, not only empowering and providing peace of mind for patients, but also opening the door to all ages and most definitely to self-care management including wellness education.

Defining self-care management

Self-management relates to the tasks that an individual takes in order to live well with one or more chronic conditions (BC Ministry of Health, 2011). There are many forms of self-management that relate to a person’s behaviors. From a patient-behavior perspective, self-management described by the BC Ministry of Health includes the patient’s knowledge of their condition, the action of the individual to adopt a self-management care plan, active collaboration with their health professional and the adoption of a healthy lifestyle focused on prevention and early intervention.

From a technology standpoint, self-management tools can be categorized into four pillars of use:

1. Subordinate

Do not include much involvement from the patient. Some examples would be video monitoring or home surveillance sensor systems.

2. Structured

Allow for self-management in a defined way. Examples would be sound or text reminders, or devices that allow a patient to transmit data acquired from application readings.

3. Collaborative

Enable better collaboration between a patient and his or her provider. A few examples of these are educational material, online interventions, decision support aids.

4. Autonomous

Do not require regular involvement of a healthcare provider. Examples include internet websites, or home heart defibrillators.

Potential of self-care management

One way to assess the status and potential of self-management in healthcare is to segment primary areas of interest and their associated populations.

The first primary user of self-care and health management technology resides on the older side of the age spectrum with seniors being the bulk of the home care technology population that will fuel market growth in the future. This population is often involved in chronic illness-specific programs with technologies that target a patient’s specific condition such as diabetes or congestive heart failure and there is typically much more involvement of a healthcare provider. For older adults living with a long-term condition, making self-management a more regular part of their everyday life can ensure independence, self-worth, and the ability to live an active life while also preventing further complications.

At the other end of the spectrum, consumer-based health and fitness applications target a primary user group of young adults aged 25-34. An American study that monitored iOS application usage (A Day in the Life of a Mobile Consumer) showed that females within this age range used sports, health, and fitness applications over 200% more than the average population. For younger adults, the definition of quality is changing into convenience which is being driven by access to a wide range of information though smart phones and similar mobile technology. It would be logical to target younger adults before they shift into acute illness or chronic diseases.

When it comes to the ’middle aged’ population however, there seems to be plenty of scope for more information and research. Although a younger adult age demographic tends to be a target audience for marketing new applications, the middle aged population can also benefit as well if these applications were properly aligned to their needs, especially in terms of programs and applications that deal more with pre-emptive tasks for those that have been identified as at risk.

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