Some technology is developed on a proactive basis, while other solutions come about in a reactive manner. A new research study involving cognitive computing solutions designed by Armonk, Westchester County-based IBM to help improve eldercare in senior living centers could be viewed as encompassing both a response to a changing world and a forward-thinking strategy for what could become a serious healthcare concern in the near future.
In cognitive computing, highly capable machines such as IBM’s Watson computer detect patterns and trends by analyzing huge amounts of data. They can mimic the way the human mind works and, in a sense, learn from what they’ve been able to identify so they can detect even more.
“The aging demographic affects the world,” said Susann Keohane, global research leader for IBM’s Strategic Initiative on Aging. “And, unfortunately, as you age you acquire disabilities.” IBM cites statistics from the U. S. Census Bureau showing that by 2020 there will be and older than there will be children under 5.
The new study teams IBM with the Avamere Family of Companies, a Willsonville, Oregon-based health care operation that encompasses 50 independent living, assisted living, transitional care and skilled nursing facilities. The study, which is set to begin later this spring and run for six months, will be based at two of Avamere’s locations and will use IBM’s technology to identify the potential factors that affect 30-day hospital readmission rates in eldercare patients.
As part of the study, IBM’s systems will be set up to monitor patient movement, including gait analysis and factors that could lead to fall risk, along with daily activities including personal hygiene, sleeping patterns, and bathroom functions. The air quality of the facilities also will be monitored.
Keohane stressed that the cognitive computing being used will be as inconspicuous as possible. “We’re not deploying cameras,” she explained. “These are consumer-grade sensors. Often in technology, you take a jackhammer to kill an ant. For this, we just need a little signal to say what’s going on in the space.”
John W. Morgan, Avamere’s CEO, said that the patients will be provided sign consent forms they must execute before any sensors will be installed in their rooms while they are undergoing treatment. “We have to be very thoughtful on how to do the focus,” he said. “The use of the data will be very sensitive. I like to say what we collect is agnostic data to the individual, and it is collected in an unobtrusive way.”
According to Morgan, Avamere will combine the real-time observational data from the study’s sensors with its existing data related to patient trends and traits at their facilities. “We want to see what is working well,” he continued. “Our goal is to move the patient from a skilled nursing facility to the home setting as soon as possible and not see them bounce back into the emergency room or another facility. We have a significant amount of data and we are interested in how to best utilize this data to assist us in doing things different in post-acute healthcare space.”
Keohane stressed that the study is not being coordinated as a response mechanism for intervention in the event of an emergency. “We are not impacting the course of care, nor are we changing how the Avamere staff delivers care,” she said. “We are just looking at patterns of patient behavior.”
Both IBM and Avamere declined to say how much the study will cost. A launch date has not been confirmed. But Morgan stated that both companies will ultimately be able to leverage the study’s results for their respective missions.
“We are learning together in this research project,” he said. “IBM’s knowledge universe will help us produce better care for our patients. And from this, IBM will be able to develop something that it can take to other clients in this space.”
Keohane affirmed that her company will be active in the eldercare market in the years ahead. “IBM is very much focused on developing the use of cognitive technology to help people as they age,” she said.