Health IT, Patient Engagement

Can passive remote patient monitoring sensors move the cost needle for seniors aging in place?

The results of the 278-participant study published this month in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests the sensors and accompanying alerts can reduce hospitalizations and custodial care,

There is a great deal of interest in digital health technology to support aging in place so that seniors living alone can stay in their own homes as long as possible, with the idea that it keeps them rooted and connected to their community. It’s also a lot more affordable than senior living facilities where hidden costs are legion and seniors might just as easily fall down and require hospitalization anyway.

But can remote monitoring through passive sensor data collection to record daily activities such as kitchen activity (like cooking and opening and closing the refrigerator), sleeping, and bathroom use make any difference?

The results of the 278-participant study to be published this month in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests they can reduce costly hospitalizations and custodial care.

Costs for inpatient services, emergency department visits, longterm care, skilled nursing facilities, and ambulance care were at least 10 percent lower in the group using the sensors. But the cost savings between the groups were deemed not to be statistically significant for per-member, per-month costs.

Claims data were collected for 12 months to determine healthcare use and costs in an intervention group and contrasted with data from two control groups. One of the control groups was a concurrent group of enrollees who declined the technology and another was a historical cohort matched by age to the participation group, the report said.

The study used sensors developed by Healthsense, which GreatCall acquired. The clinicians for the 74-person group using the sensors received information about those members’ home behaviors, such as a person waking up more than usual at night to use the bathroom or taking longer than usual to return to bed. Trending and real-time alerts triggered a call from the GreatCall response center to check on a participant. If the participant was unwell or unreachable, the response center then called a family member.

Although it’s notable that the sensors were a factor in reducing hospitalization, it’s worth pointing out that there were some limitations to the study.

The study has a relatively small sample size with only 278 patients. Further, the participants were on the same health plan — Fallon NaviCare, a Massachusetts-based healthcare plan for seniors. The report on the study also considered that since participants could choose whether or not to have the sensors, those who opted for them could have been more health conscious and interested in proactive approaches for their health compared with the other groups.

Photo: Getty Images

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the study had already been published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, but the article has not yet been published.