New digital products are touted as providing a virtual safety net for vulnerable older people and giving their families and caregivers peace of mind. These products come under the name ‘personal health monitoring’ or PHM devices. Let’s look at a few examples. (Please note, although some brand names are used for clarity, this article is not endorsing any products.)
Wearable blood pressure monitors and blood sugar monitors are well-known and accepted health tools. They are supported by apps on your phone and can provide your doctor or health nurse with important and timely information.
Health technology can also be integrated into your body. One example is a heart rhythm monitoring device. This is inserted under the skin in your chest area. It collects and sends information to your heart specialist.
The simple pill box has gone high tech. One example is MedMinder. It has an online website where you load in the person’s medication schedule. The pill box is 4 rows deep by 7 rows long so it would suit someone who takes medicines up to 4 times daily. If the medication is not taken, MedMinder calls the client or a caregiver with a friendly reminder. Medication compliance is recorded on the website. One model is electronically locked to avoid overdosing.
Home monitoring has become increasingly popular especially when an elderly family member lives alone. Common commercial products such as Google Home can be used for personal monitoring. A home assistant device with a video screen allows you to check in with your family member as often as you wish.
A more tailormade option is HomeGuardian. This is an Australian product designed to monitor falls, absences and wandering. It can also detect someone’s temperature and sleep behaviour. This can help carers and family members address small health changes quickly. HomeGuardian does not store any personal health data. All the alerts are processed on the devices and sent to a designated person.
The remote monitoring of your family members’ health has definite advantages. You have peace of mind and feel they are safer than before. But sometimes privacy is sacrificed. Physical privacy is compromised when someone is watching or can watch you in your own home. Then there is data privacy. As many of these digital monitoring devices are made by commercial companies which have other business partners, it can be hard to keep track of your health data.
Once someone gets used to the monitoring devices, they can forget they are there. This means they are being monitored without knowing it anymore. This covert surveillance is shaky ground. When visitors come into the home, are they monitored too? If a camera is going to pick them up by default, they need to be advised of this.
Some researchers argue that wearing a personal health monitoring device or having a monitoring system at home can lead to social isolation. Carers, friends or family members may feel it is not necessary to drop in or make that phone call. The device is seeing as doing the ‘caring’.
A research review of 297 articles about PHM devices found 39 of the articles addressed ethical issues (Mittelstadt et al, ETHICOMP 2011). The researchers found a moral conflict between freedom and safety. It is a balancing act. In the home environment, judicious use of technology may slow down or prevent someone having to leave their family home. On the other hand, if technology is overused, it can take away decisions and disempower your older family member.
In conclusion, adapting to new technology is difficult and not all devices will suit all people. While personal health monitoring devices offer relief for busy families and carers, they do not have the human touch.
Kendall Morton is Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email email@example.com