Electronic Health Monitoring: Help for Seniors Aging in Place?

Family caregivers of senior loved ones are anxiously awaiting demonstration of the effective use of electronic health monitoring devices. We feel that being able to get advice, treatment and monitoring from healthcare professionals on a daily basis without having to take our loved one for rounds and rounds of doctors’ offices may mean better lives for seniors, with improved healthcare and hopefully reduced cost for that care.

But Does Tele-Health Monitoring Work?

A recent study appears to cast some doubt on the effectiveness of tele-health monitoring for seniors – at least in keeping them out of the hospital – at this time. The report found that the use of electronic health monitoring did not reduce the number of emergency room visits to which seniors were sent even though they were monitored daily. The monitoring included blood pressure, weight, and other health related measurements. It also provided phone calls with nurses to discuss the health monitors with an option to videoconference if needed.

Researchers do not think that electronic health monitoring is not useful or helpful, but that more attention should be paid to which seniors qualify for the service and most importantly how doctors are using the health information that monitoring provides.

“Sometimes patients get into trouble long before they see us. The hope is that with knowledge that they’re starting to get into trouble… we can intercept before they get to the point where they have to be hospitalized,” states Dr. Harlan Krumholz, who has studied e-health.

Before drawing conclusions, let’s look more closely at the study…

This new study, conducted in Minnesota and funded by the Mayo Foundation and the National Institutes of Health with Intel providing the tele-monitoring systems, included 205 seniors who were felt to be at high risk for hospitalizations due to their chronic medical conditions. Dr. Paul Takahashi from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and colleagues found that “a year after getting their monitoring systems, patients in the tele-monitoring group were still going to the ER and being hospitalized just as often as those without the systems.”

Researchers of this study have yet to determine why there was no decrease in hospitalizations in those seniors who were closely monitored. They feel that other differences might have impacted the outcome including a difference in caregiver support and access to transportation, and also that doctors could have made changes too quickly for health measurements that might have corrected themselves over time.

Researchers state that health professionals might be acting or reacting to the health data in ways that are not wholly beneficial. They feel that more research is needed to help doctors determine how to most effectively work with the constant data they get from tele-monitors and make an effective plan of action. They remind us that it is not the computer system but how we react to the data they provide that will positively affect health in our seniors.

Give Remote Health Monitoring a Chance

We agree that over-reaction to this limited study should be avoided. There certainly will be more studies, looking at the same types of patients and others. It may be that these results are an aberration or that there are some patients this doesn’t keep out of the hospital. Of course, monitoring won’t always keep people out of the hospital, but may just get them there sooner than they would otherwise.

Senior Care Corner joins those with high hopes this new technology will be valuable to the health and well-being of our senior loved ones and encourage manufacturers, doctors and health insurers to continue to study how to best utilize electronic health monitoring. Family caregivers, especially those caring from a distance, will find access to health data a vital step forward in managing chronic diseases for long term health.