A recent article in The New York Times Science Times by Daniela J. Lamas highlights a new trend in emergency room care: sending patients home. The goal is not to deny patient care. Rather, there is a growing understanding that home care in certain situations, may be the optimal way to care for patients. This new trend creates enormous opportunities for HealthTech entrepreneurs creating smaller, lighter, more mobile, and more patient-friendly equipment that can be used by patients, families, and home-care practitioners.
It is no secret that hospitals are under tremendous pressures to reduce costs and improve the quality of care. Increased public awareness of the dangers of hospitalizations, especially for the elderly, has made the avoidance of hospital stays equally appealing to patients. Combine this with new technologies that make home-care possible and we may see some significant opportunities in the healthcare space.
Not surprisingly, one factor that keeps patients in the hospital is the need for moment to moment monitoring. Innovations that help track and communicate patient data and communicate it to off-site physicians real time will define home care growth. Innovative uses of sensors and implantable technology will fuel the acute home care trend especially to the extent they help facilitate prompt diagnosis of complications and quick understandings of treatment effectiveness.
An additional stumbling block to acute home care may be size, portability, and weight of equipment. As Lamas points out, “intravenous medications and X-rays can be readily adapted for the home; ventilators cannot.” She further highlights that one reason a patient might not be considered for the Mount Sinai program in New York could be lack of sufficient space for oxygen or intravenous supplies. With those examples in mind, it is clear that advances which make it physically possible to bring necessary equipment into the home will be welcome solutions to logistical impediments of home care.
Finally, one of the biggest risks of sending a patient home from the emergency room is caretaker/patient error. Instructions given at the hospital may easily be forgotten, papers handed out easily lost and, if there is a language barrier, not understood. As an example, Lamas describes the well-meaning family member who put intravenous drugs into the freezer. No doubt, further examples of human error by untrained caretakers and patients are not hard to find. Apps or devices that clarify or simplify care will quickly win converts. The inventors of the Auvi-Q alternative to the traditional epi-pen understood this well. Their innovative device which fits in a back pocket and has step by step oral instructions for the user has become more and more popular. Simplicity and portability will be key components of an evolving healthcare strategy. Those who figure out a way to contribute to that trend will find they have a very desirable product.
The doors for innovation to facilitate acute home health care are open. For those who focus on faster, clearer communication, device size/weight reduction and simplification will find a welcome audience for adoption and implementation of new solutions.