The Problem: Homecare Requires “At-The-Elbow” Healthcare Support
COVID-19 brought both new capabilities and new challenges for delivering healthcare services to patients’ homes. Digital technology advances are delivering effective and efficient solutions that engage patients in their care while also providing real-time clinical results from remote patient monitoring solutions. Telehealth allows virtual care encounters that have proven to be not only effective but satisfactory for both the physician and patient in most cases.
Many healthcare delivery organizations have digital platforms that allow patients to do the following:
But even with all this functionality, virtual medicine still has some challenges that prevent closing the loop for complete care delivery.
In most healthcare delivery systems, the ability for a patient to email or text a physician directly is highly controlled. This makes sense as physicians are terribly busy, and these interruptions could fuel physician burnout. In some environments, a nurse may intercept patient questions for the physician to provide more timely responses. But in some cases, nurses cannot fully answer the patient’s question without the physician’s input.
There are also challenges with verifying that patients are taking their medications or conducting assigned therapies. If a clinician is not present to validate these processes, how can the clinician achieve the highest quality of care?
Finally, many organizations may not have the human resources to support homecare services.
The Solution: Robotic Caregivers
New smart home solutions are emerging to close some of the virtual care gaps. Alexa Care Hub allows families who are concerned about the well-being of older relatives to use Alexa to keep an eye on them. Families can link Alexa accounts and designate an emergency contact for their relative. The Alexa device then monitors the time and usage amount for the person being monitored. If activity isn’t observed by a certain time, the emergency contact person can be notified.
But smart home solutions still aren’t capable of providing real-time patient interactions for supporting healthcare therapies. To further support acute homecare, Awakening Health has created a robotic healthcare assistant called Grace. Grace includes AI supplied by SingularityNET to help it converse with patients and interact with their needs. The AI has been tuned to “detect and respond appropriately to patients based on both what they say and the emotional context.”
Grace is not the only robotic caregiver designed to support humans in homecare. Pillo Health and Stanley Black & Decker have developed Pria, a voice-activated robot with a smart display and pill dispenser to support medication management.
CR Robotics created a robot for Alzheimer’s patients called Mylo, which functions as a mobile video-call center, GPS tracker, and heart and general health monitor. It can also call emergency services if it detects someone falling.
The Justification: A New Resource Approach to Support Homecare
Healthcare services are transitioning to a homecare focus where appropriate. Most healthcare organizations are limited in the clinical resources they can apply to support patients for homecare. But the emergence of new AI-enabled robot caregivers will likely provide an approach that will be evaluated by providers.
Robots that can accurately communicate with patients for healthcare related needs and support or monitor the associated interventions will likely become highly effective solutions. Early adoption of homecare robots will occur as the cost of robots approaches the cost of hiring a human homecare worker. Robots also have an advantage as they never get sick or require wage increases. That said, some patients may never accept robots.
The Players: Emerging Companies with Evolving Robotics Capabilities
AI-supported robotic solutions that are designed to facilitate interactive services during homecare are evolving in their capabilities. But they should still be considered highly risky for deployment at this time.
As healthcare transitions to support higher levels of homecare, many healthcare organizations will struggle with a lack of available human resources or a lack of capability to support these services. Patients will likely accept robotic caregivers if the robots have highly-developed AI capabilities for accommodating natural communication and can provide effective interventions. Supporting interventions like medication and therapy compliance and aligning with health monitoring services will close care gaps and improve patient outcomes.
Early adoption of AI robotic homecare products will begin when the cost of the robots is equivalent to the cost of humans providing similar services. While robots may never fully replace humans for homecare functions, they will provide a tenable reserve when human resources are unavailable.
Initially, smart home solutions will evolve to help with home healthcare guidance and monitoring. Within 5–10 years, I predict robots with proven AI will extend homecare capabilities that are reliable and cost effective.
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