Machine to Machine (M2M) connected care solutions have the ability to improve the lives of people with disability, impairment or ageing. In Australia, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was introduced to reform the way in which disability care and support are funded. It addresses the ongoing pressures of a rising health budget brought about by outdated disability service delivery systems, a growing and ageing population and declining numbers of informal care givers.
Funded through a 0.5% increase in the Medicare Levy, the insurance model of the Scheme ensures that Australians who need disability care have access to it. The NDIS Act launched DisabilityCare Australia. The roll out of DisabilityCare, conducted in stages, began with trial sites in 2013 and full national implementation is expected by 2019. While NDIS is still in it’s initial stages of implementation, it makes sense to invest now in suitable technology and significantly reduce overall costs of operating the scheme over the long-term.
M2M connected care solutions can ease the burden on society by enabling more efficient deliveries of care and support to the disabled. Solutions can benefit assisted living, allowing people with a disability to live independently in their homes for longer and function better in their daily lives. Solutions also benefit care facilities under increasing pressure to operate on reduced staffing levels with the continued expectation to identify and act on all incidences. Connected devices for monitoring and remote management of people with disabilities use sensors, actuators and smart software as part of a smart environment that communicates with users and carers via alarms, computers or mobile devices.
An estimated 12% of DisabilityCare Australia’s $14.3 billion annual cost will go on assisted living. Smart homes and environments, one of the biggest potential markets for connected devices, falls under this category. Smart home and environments that are aware of, and can monitor and respond to, the people living in them, use wireless sensor networks to control or automate features. The environment can also be monitored by a smart system to ensure safety and raise alerts for prompt investigation. Emergency or exception alerts can be sent to a nominated person, triggered by a fall, movement outside a predetermined ‘safe’ area, or failure to complete routine activities such as using bathroom facilities. Applications have been trialed where users were automatically alerted if their door or windows were left unlocked, enabled them to check via a camera who was ringing the front door bell or reminded if they had left the kettle or stove on.
Enterprising students from La Trobe University were joint winners of the Telstra 2013 M2M University Challenge with their Home Guardian solution. An in-home monitoring application for people with a disability or the elderly, it implements non-intrusive motion sensors to detect discrepancies in behaviour and alert health services or family members. This technology uses wide-angle motion sensors installed in the houses of the disabled and elderly needing monitoring and notifies care givers or relatives if something is amiss, e.g. no movement being detected throughout the home. This project is an example of the latest technology that includes profiling of people in care, understanding peoples’ habits in order to determine out-of-the-ordinary situations that require a response.
M2M personal tracking and monitoring systems also allow doctors, relatives and care givers real time updates on current health status and whereabouts of residents or relatives. Worn without restriction and discomfort, an example of this technology is currently being used in care facilities. Dementia patients with the inclination and nous to escape from care are monitored with wristband technology. The parameters are set specifically to alert staff to the resident’s proximity to an open door with sensors picking up the 2 important coinciding inputs – location of the patient and the open status of the door.
Geo-fencing (creating virtual boundaries) and the tracking of wandering, lost and missing people in care are obvious and increasingly common applications for wearable technologies with broader possibilities for use. An example of a further application is the tracking and monitoring of guide dogs with a wearable device to ensure their owners’ safety and initiate rapid emergency response if required.
The huge potential for wearable technologies leverages cellular and/or short range wireless communications in helping care givers provide crucial care and enabling people with disabilities to live more independently. The potential of the wearable technologies will bring in new players with connectivity suppliers, wearable device and health gateway vendors, online applications, and existing vertically integrated players all increasing their offerings to meet the demands of this growing market.
An ageing population and declining informal care will increase pressure and costs for all service systems. An efficient disability care service system that includes M2M solutions that continuously monitor activity, location and can detect emergencies is the optimal use of finite staff resources in timely response to the needs of the disabled. System features including manual or automatic initiation of two-way voice communication for emergency response while simultaneously transmitting relevant data such as location are essential. As people with disabilities and the elderly are encouraged and supported in living independently, people needing monitoring and care will be geographically wide spread. As a result, M2M connected care may evolve to a service delivery landscape where centralized, care management centres despatch staff best matched by availability, qualification and proximity to the meet each remotely monitored person in need.
NDIS aims to address past government funding growth that has focussed on maintaining failing service delivery systems rather than innovation to improve outcomes or reduce future costs. Investing in a more effective disability system that drives cost-effective support strategies with use of M2M solutions will result in sustainable costs over the long-term. While the upfront technology costs may be higher, the benefits to finances, productivity and society will outweigh these costs over time. M2M technologies can contribute to a disability support system that makes the best use of all contributing resources including other services and informal care.