Health at home

  • Health
  • Sunday, 06 Feb 2011

Centres which provide personal emergency response services are becoming an important part of healthcare.

ACCORDING to Philips Healthcare senior vice-president and general manager Walter van Kuijen, close to 60% of deaths nowadays are related to chronic diseases.

However, our healthcare system is designed around acute conditions, and not to cope with chronically ill patients who need continuous care, he said.

“We want to connect patients at home to the hospital, which has the knowledge to deal with the disease.”

He added: “Nowadays, we expect better choices; we expect better healthcare in the future.

“The baby boomers want to age with purpose; they want to be in control.”

This often means that they want to live independently in their own homes, instead of with their children or in assisted living communities.

And this is where home healthcare systems come in.

Van Kuijen was speaking to a group of international journalists during a tour of the Philips Home Monitoring headquarters in Framingham, Massachusetts, recently.

The building houses one of the two Lifeline call centres located in the United States. Another two are located in Canada.

These centres, which provide personal emergency response services, receive around 35,000-45,000 calls a day from close to one million customers, who are elderly people living alone.

Each customer carries a portable lightweight button worn as a pendant or wrist strap that connects them directly to the call centre when pushed.

In case of an emergency, the Personal Response Associate (PRA) answering the call can contact emergency services, while staying on the line with the customer.

The PRA also has immediate access to the customer’s emergency contact – who might be a neighbour with a spare key who can check in immediately on the customer, nearest family member, and most importantly, medical records, so that they can brief the paramedics who respond to the call on the customer’s health problems.

The key idea however, is not just to respond to emergencies, but also to monitor the customer’s health condition, so that any warning signs can be caught at an early stage.

Philips Home Healthcare Solutions senior vice-president and chief medical officer Dr David White said: “When a patient shows up in an emergency room, they are way out of range, and have been out of range for a long while.

“The idea is to catch them when they are starting to go out of range, and to intervene early.”

About 95% of the calls to the centres however, are non-emergencies.

Many of these calls are from customers checking their equipment, which also enables the PRAs to run through a standard questionnaire to check on their health status.

Some of these calls are also from customers who might be feeling lonely and want to connect with someone.

The remaining 5% are emergency calls, of which around 4% to 5% end up in the hospital.

An extra option for the Lifeline service, which adds about 30% to the usual cost of about US$38 (RM116.22) and ‚100 (RM415.78) per month in North America and Europe respectively, is the AutoAlert service.

This option was designed around the idea that some customers, when they fall or suddenly have a health crisis, might fall unconscious, are immobilised or become too disorientated to push the contact button.

After detecting a fall, the device allows 30 seconds for the customer to get up or move. If it detects no motion after that, it automatically calls the Lifeline call centre.

Currently available in North America and certain European countries, van Kuijen said that the company plans to launch the first Asian Lifeline call centre in Japan in the second half of this year.

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