Jiang Li

As the median age in the United States continues to increase with each passing year, it’s no surprise to learn that the U.S. population aged more than 65 years currently is more than 15 percent. Further, with the aging baby boomer generation, the number of Americans 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to more than 98 million by 2060.

Of the 46 million elderly Americans alive today, eight of 10 are living with one or more chronic diseases. This means an increased number of individual visits to healthcare providers, resulting in greater strain on providers and residential communities that serve older adults.

Until recently, popular consumer fitness trackers have been healthcare’s only option for remotely tracking patient data with a device that consumers know and will wear. After all, if they won’t wear it when leaving the hospital or doctor’s office, then there is no point in prescribing the wearable technology. But can providers trust them to deliver accurate data when tracking the health of senior housing and care residents and home care patients?

Essentially, the answer is no. Even with Fitbit’s recent launch of Fitbit Care, a health platform that combines coaching, virtual care, wearable devices and self-tracking, the reported data still are not considered medical-grade, and they are more consumer-facing than healthcare provider-facing.

A new category of wearable health technologies, however, stamped with FDA-clearance for quality along with the ease-of-use and wearability of a consumer device, are making it easier to monitor conditions that previously had been challenging when someone is remote. The technologies are just as easy to operate as consumer devices, and they guarantee the quality that makes remote patient monitoring (RPM) not only possible, but reliable.

Now, senior living residents and home care patients, and their healthcare providers, can take full advantage of the benefits with more precise data and embrace a future of less office or home visits. In addition to providing a new level of accuracy and reliability for healthcare providers, some of these medical-grade wearables offer continuous monitoring capabilities over 24 hour windows so a more complete picture of the person’s state, instead of sparse moments of data, can be observed.

Not only have RPM technologies been shown to be increasingly efficient in helping to manage chronic disease, post-acute care and continuous monitoring relating to the safety of seniors, but studies have shown that these advancements also can help older adults actually slow the progression of chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

As the aging population grows, so do the number of individual hospital visits as a result of injury. Falls are the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and of hospital admissions for trauma, among older adults. Once discharged, patients and doctors often face a lack of reliable home-care tools that allow the ability to properly recover and avoid hospital readmission. These home and self-care challenges often result in readmission just weeks post-discharge, which means greater levels of healthcare utilization and reductions in independence. With proper and reliable RPM technologies, healthcare providers can safely monitor an older adult’s vital signs and recovery, without the person having to leave the comfort of their own home.

Overall, reliable, effective and accessible medical-grade wearable technology has the ability to cut down on hospital wait times, healthcare costs and improve the general well-being of the senior population across the United States. Greater access to proven RPM technologies can lead to safer and more effective healthcare among older adults while also reducing the cost and burden incurred through senior care.