5 Reasons the iPad Will Revolutionize Home Health


Medical Market Analyst, Software Advice

We’ve all heard numerous reports of the revolutionary benefits of the iPad, and the health care industry is particularly excited about this new form of computing. What I haven’t heard is many people talking specifically about what a huge impact the iPad will have in home health care.

Pardon my French, but the iPad empowers home caregivers to provide kick-ass, compassionate, logistically efficient and accountable care at a lower cost. Apps built to run on iPads transform what a home care giver can do in her day, how effective she is at providing care, how much it costs her to do so, and—lest we forget—how pleasant the whole experience is for the patient she’s trying to make well. Which is, after all, the important part.

Below, I’ll take you through five areas of home health where I think the iPad is a game-changer.

1. The iPad Will Make Expensive Diagnostic Equipment Obsolete

Given its processing power and the ease with which developers can create new apps, the iPad is incredibly extensible. Imagine an inexpensive blood pressure cuff that plugs into an iPad, and stores patients’ vitals right in the caregiver’s iPad, presumably within an electronic health record (EHR) app. Or think about disposable EKG electrodes and an accompanying app that replaces the $3,000 machines providers use—and cart around—today. Soon, rather than lugging around cumbersome and expensive devices, a home caregiver will travel with a simple kit of electrodes, cuffs, and sensors at the end of cables she simply plugs in to the iPad.

That day isn’t far off in the future, either, since iPad and iPhone-App integrated accessories are here already. Consider Square, a new company that built a credit card reader add-on for an iPhone. Thanks to the thriving App developer community and the great possible gains in quality of care and cost savings to be had in this area, it’s likely that similar devices for health care won’t be far behind.

2. EHR Adoption Will Happen in Home Healthcare—Finally

EHRs have been around home health for a while, but it’s the iPad that I believe will lead to widespread adoption. I spoke with Mary Jo Pfaff, who was my Girl Scout troop leader since I was a Daisy, and who is also a licensed physical therapist. Her home health agency will transition to EHRs next month and, I learned over lunch, will use agency-provided iPads. Though Mary Jo isn’t an early-tech-adopter type—for example, she still uses an AOL email address—she said she’s looking forward to using the iPad.

Another factor that makes me confident the iPad will drive EHR adoption is the intuitive nature of the iPad’s touchscreen. And the familiarity of this user interface given the ubiquity of the iPhone. Moreover, suggests Alora Health CEO Sathish John, “The iPad offers an ideal screen size. With several hundred data elements to capture during clinical documentation, such as a comprehensive assessment with OASIS and non-OASIS questions, you need a device that has a big enough screen but at the same time, is thin and light weight.”

3. Coordinating Logistics Will Be Easier

Home health workers can use existing iPad apps from gas station locators and mileage counters to the built-in camera to help them save time and be more efficient. For example, caregivers could use the camera to snap photos of receipts for expense reports. Sharing information in real time is now as easy as a home health care team using a shared calendar. Some home health software programs have scheduling features built in, too.

When I spoke with Mary Jo about how having an iPad was likely to change what her day looked like, she was very optimistic.

“It’s going to make scheduling and coordinating much easier between all the different people who might need to visit a patient over their course of care,” she told me, explaining that right now, if her or a patient’s schedule changes, she must go through a round of calls to other caregivers. These benefits of sharing one common calendar could be part of what gets home care clinicians and managers on board and excited about the switch.

4. Monitoring for Accountability Will Be a Tenable Option

Here’s a more controversial idea. The iPad’s GPS functionality—the same one that shows you where you are on a map—means an agency’s choice to track the whereabouts of its caregivers is no longer tied closely to the prohibitive cost of GPS systems. Now, if your care team is equipped with iPads, their location can be tracked easily. In my mind, implementing this is more of a management style question, but there is no longer a big GPS investment hurdle to clear.

To me an agency charting the whereabouts of its care team seems creepy and Big Brother-ish. Proponents point to liability and accountability concerns of possible rogue caregivers as justifications. But the fact that the agencies who implemented the system would in most circumstances be able to see where caregivers were (even during non-working hours) makes me uneasy for the care team, whose personal privacy could be at risk. Regardless of where you fall on this debate, the reality is that agencies can implement a system easily with an iPad app or even basic cell signal triangulation.

5. Approaches to Wellness Can Be More Therapeutic

Finally, don’t write off the iPad’s fun features as fluff. I did—until Mindy Pillow of Kinnser Software shared an anecdote of a clinically depressed patient who’d been given an iPad to play Scrabble. Being able to play his favorite game for hours on end brought him happiness, and made a significant difference in his outlook. Mindy also told me caregivers sometimes play music from their iPad during treatment, so their patients are more relaxed.

The benefits of music for wellness are becoming widely recognized. Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections Program, which takes musicians to hospitals, senior service organizations, and correctional facilities, was founded on the premise that “music has the power to transform lives and to bring hope and comfort to people in challenging circumstances.” Initial program evaluations have demonstrated a profound impact on participants. And as respected medical blogger e-Patient Dave recently discussed, an immense body of research shows mental and physical health are tightly connected.

This wraps up what I want to say, but I’m curious to hear what you think about how the iPad is going to change the home health care sector. Please feel free to email me at katie@softwareadvice.com or leave a comment in the section below.

Thanks to Mindy Pillow, Sathish John, and Latoya S. Thomas, Associate Director at the Home Care Technology Association of America.

Thumbnail image created by Blake Patterson.

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