Telehealth and self-care technology is here, and it’s going to be a fast-growing source of business for low-voltage electrical contractors. This is not a guess; it’s a sure thing.
According to the Census Bureau, 71 million Americans will be over the age of 65 by 2030. A huge number of potential customers will be eager for technology that can give them better and less expensive healthcare.
Moreover, reducing the economic burden of Medicare and Medicaid is one of the hottest issues of the day. It is much less expensive to install health monitoring systems in peoples’ homes than to pay for long-term institutional care.
Telehealth is intended for those diagnosed with chronic diseases such as congestive heart failure, high blood pressure or diabetes. There are at least three areas in which telehealth technology can contribute: prevention, aftercare and emergency response.
Prevention and aftercare
Much like predictive maintenance in the workplace, preventive healthcare can stave off troublesome health breakdowns or readmission to a hospital. Both ideas are organized around the same principles—continually monitor vital signs to establish a baseline and take action when it looks like problems are likely to develop. Regular monitoring is much more effective in predicting problems than an occasional office visit.
Monitoring requires sensors to measure vital signs, blood pressure, glucose level, weight and blood oxygen levels. This information can be sent to designated caregivers for interpretation.
Similar to how security analytics software used in video surveillance can evaluate data and transmit an alarm when it senses an anomaly, healthcare analytics programs use a variety of algorithms to predict a possible health anomaly and trigger an alarm. Software offers the flexibility in programming to determine who receives an alarm: a health professional, visiting healthcare worker, relative, neighbor or monitoring service. Also, these systems assist in aftercare.
Safety and emergency response
Those TV ads for “I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up” buttons are a sure sign that there is a market for emergency alert systems. Such systems and devices are available now, and many that significantly improve on this simple alert button are still in the research-and-development stage. For example, motion sensors placed around the home to automatically turn lights on and off or to serve as intrusion detectors also can be used to send information to healthcare analytics software to establish baseline patterns for how people typically move about in their homes. If there is a sudden change in a pattern, perhaps motion suddenly stopping in the middle of a hallway or no motion at all at an unusual time, an alarm can be sent to a designated neighbor or relative to make a phone call to the senior’s home or stop by and investigate. These warning systems don’t require a person, who might be unconscious, to take action, such as pressing a button.
Advances in aging-in-place technology
The January announcement of the joint healthcare venture, Intel-GE Care Innovations, stated, “The market segment for telehealth and home health monitoring is predicted to grow to an estimated $7.7 billion by 2012” (www.careinnovations.com).
“That’s where big players like Intel and GE come in. They bring crucial marketing muscle to get widespread distribution through doctors’ offices and home healthcare providers—and eventually to consumers through local stores and online sales,” Walter Hamilton wrote in “Elder Care Goes High Tech,” in the Los Angeles Times on June 17, 2011.
Laurie Orlov, principal analyst for Aging in Place Technology Watch, described this business as an early market.
“I equate it to where e-commerce was in 1999 when people were not comfortable with buying online, and emerging companies had virtually no customers,” Orlov said. All that changed within a few years. She predicted that there will be a major “shakeout” in the telehealth market in the next four to five years.
When asked how contractors could get started in this business, Orlov said home automation sellers and installers should educate themselves on selling through various channels to an older population. They should not try to sell their services directly to consumers until they clearly understand their prospective customers and influencers. They could instead work with existing organizations in the eldercare field.
A chance to get in on the ground floor of a business that is certain to see explosive growth doesn’t come around often. This is a perfect opportunity to position yourself as a major player.
In my next column, I will survey some of the products and systems that are currently available.
BROWN is an electrical engineer, technical writer and editor. For many years, he designed high-power electronics systems for industry, research laboratories and government. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.writingengineer.com, an independent professional writing service.