Guy Fragala, Ph.D.

In today’s world, advances in technology have provided a great opportunity for the application of this technology targeted at improving the safety of healthcare patients. Consider having a caregiver who could be with an individual patient 24/7 and record everything that goes on with that patient. There is no question that the patient would benefit from a higher level of safety. 

Further, if a team of analysts could review and analyze all the data and information collected, many ideas for improvement would result. However, it is not practical nor is it reasonably achievable to think that every patient could have their own personal caregiver 24/7 and a team of analysts could be hired to devote that much attention to an individual patient.

With the availability of sensor technology, at a very reasonable cost, there now exists the capability of providing practical systems to continuously monitor factors 24/7, which have a big impact on patient safety. For purposes of this discussion let us consider patient falls as an important safety consideration. Many healthcare facilities have fall prevention programs in place, but to date improvements achieved have been minimal and there remains a big need for effective solutions to achieve risk reduction and effective fall prevention.  

Many of the falls and injuries that occur should be considered preventable, and it is critical to have a systematic process of assessment, intervention and monitoring that results in minimizing fall risk. Beyond the pain and suffering to the patient, falls in healthcare also come at a substantial cost. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimated that cost to be $67.7 billion in 2020. 

Currently, there are a variety of sensor types that might be considered for this application to fall prevention in healthcare and there are several companies emerging who wish to offer this sensor monitoring technology. The types of sensors available include ambient-based such as pressure pads on beds; wearables such as accelerometer, gyroscope and compass type; and visual such as various camera types. 

Each of these sensor types comes with advantages and disadvantages. The healthcare industry is beginning to see application of these sensors either used individually or with some systems, multiple sensor types used in combination. With these sensors in place, there is the capability to gather large amounts of data for each patient 24/7 and this data can be thoroughly analyzed with today’s computers.

Machine learning, a component of Artificial Intelligence (AI), is now capable of providing proactive care and enhanced monitoring capabilities tailored to meet the healthcare demands of hospitals, long-term care facilities and home care patients, without intrusive devices or complex deployments. The hardware to do this is nothing magic and many groups will be capable of providing sensors for monitoring or surveillance systems. The functionality, reliability and cost of the hardware, however, will be important for the first cut of providers to be considered. 

There will be many groups that provide systems that can effectively do descriptive analytics, that is, effectively detect and report adverse events such as falls. The next level of solution providers will be capable of doing good predictive analytics as well, for example predicting a fall before it occurs and triggering a timely alert which will provide an opportunity to take preventive action.

I believe there will be a select group who can effectively do these predictive analytics, but think the real leaders and winners will also master the prescriptive analytics. That is, they will push further with the AI and determine proactively, based on what has been learned about general fall prevention, the facility and set of patients, what will be the best set of interventions to put in place. 

These interventions will not only reduce the incidence of falls but also identify and correct faults in the facility’s care delivery system which might allow an adverse event, such as a fall, to occur. Further, I believe that through effective partnerships of technology companies with groups that have a good understanding of healthcare delivery and risk reduction, effective prescriptive analytics will be achievable leading to improved outcomes and a higher quality of care. 

Guy Fragala Ph.D., PE, CSP, CSPHP is recognized as one of the pioneers of Safe Patient Handling and Mobility efforts in the United States and is a recognized international expert in the application of ergonomics to the healthcare setting. In 2012 he was awarded the National Advocacy Award for Improved Caregiver Safety and in 2017 awarded the Bernice Owen Safe Patient Handling and Mobility Research Award. His book entitled, Ergonomics: How to Contain On-the-Job Injuries in Healthcare, published by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, has influenced much of the work today related to healthcare ergonomics and safe patient handling and mobility programs.     

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.