Technology continues to play a growing role in the treatment of in-home care for seniors.
It can help fill the void when a social worker or aid cannot be on-site, and, at the same time, meet the needs for telehealth and virtual care. The latest tech devices can also provide other benefits such as voice activated 24/7 emergency response and even personalized entertainment with games and music.
Recently our firm, Veterans Home Care, helped develop such a device to meet a growing demand for smart technologies.
Refinement led to the development of a device called the Companion. The goal was to replace the myriad outdated medical alert devices and instead provide 24/7 emergency response, voice activation and even video-enabled calls. This is accomplished through the use of a device powered by Alexa on a secure HIPAA-compliant network.
The Companion rollout began with our VetAssist Program clients, veterans and veterans’ spouses who qualify for the VA’s Aid and Attendance benefit. VetAssist clients receive in-home care, provided by our contracted home care agencies, with no-out-of-pocket costs. Their device is branded as the VetAssist Companion.
For those who do not qualify for VA Benefits, the SmartCompanion is available through contracted home care agencies in the client’s provider network. Affordability is a key factor and, like other medical devices, may be covered by through insurance.
Like some new smart technology devices the Companion works without necklaces, pendants or push buttons needed in emergencies.
Clients just say, “Alexa, call for help,” and they are connected to a 24/7 emergency response team. The system is pre-programmed and ready for plug ‘n’ play installation.
Calling is hands-free and enables clients to answer calls, call a pre-programmed list of people, or give Alexa a number to dial. Clients just say, “Alexa, call Jeff,” or “Alexa, answer call.”
Specific reminders can be programmed in. These can include phrases such as “remember to take your medicine” or “turn off the stove.” All the fun and excitement of a typical Echo device with Alexa is included. Clients can ask Alexa questions, play games, listen to music, hear the news, and even request a joke. The Companion can be used as an in-home intercom system.
A recent example of the Companion in action occurred when Bonita Hoyle, an 86-year-old widow of a Korean War veteran in New Mexico, recently used her device to call 911 when she became sick.
Paramedics were called and, thankfully, she is doing well back at home. “It’s a wonderful thing,” she said about her Companion. “It couldn’t be much simpler. It’s wonderful to be able to speak and get a response.”
This type of technology works even when the internet is not available. It will be funneled to a nearby cell tower.
Thus far, some 600 clients are using the Companion. Demand is growing steadily.
Agencies can benefit by using a device like a Companion even without a caregiver. They can meet with the family and start virtual care. This creates a prelude to home care.
For clients not ready for home care just yet, or in addition to home care visits, it also offers weekly virtual check-in visits.
Smart devices can enhance an agencies care, differentiate the firm and generate revenue.
As loneliness and isolation put seniors at risk for declining health and depression, new smart devices such as the Companion can help them with the tasks of daily living, help them stay more connected with friends and family, and, at the same time, provide a number of operational benefits for in-home care agencies.
As we continue to innovate and add features to the SmartCompanion, we are positioned to meet the unmet needs in the senior healthcare market.
Evan Kaltman is Veterans Home Care managing partner and vice president of sales.