According to Seniors Resource Guide, aging in place is defined as the ability for a senior to live in a home of their choice “safely, independently, and comfortably.” Income levels, physical ability, and age aren’t calculated into this definition. Most people hold this as the gold standard for senior living conditions; however, this isn’t achieved without some preparation and oversight. Keep in mind that 60 percent of senior falls happen in the home. In order to create a safe place to live and prevent a trip to the ER, seniors and their homes will have to undergo some changes. Here are some tips for helping a senior age in place while reducing the risk of falls.
Participate in Physical Therapy Physical therapy isn’t only intended for individuals recovering from an accident, injury, or surgery. This practice has the ability to help anyone improve their posture, range of motion, and stability. For seniors, physical therapy can aid in fall prevention. The reason so many seniors fall at home is due to their weakening muscles and brittle bones. Professionals can help correct these problems by working with seniors to improve their mobility and build up their musculoskeletal strength. When practiced regularly, physical therapy can work to prevent the kinds of falls that could make it impossible for a senior to age in place.
Invest in an Emergency Alert System Although aging in place allows seniors to live their lives independently, there are some inherent risks that come with this decision. It’s always a good idea to have an emergency alert system as a backup just in case something goes wrong. Even if you take all of the necessary precautions, there is still a chance that a senior may suffer from a bad fall. The best way to make sure this fall isn’t serious or life-threatening, you should invest in some sort of device that allows seniors to contact help immediately. The cost of these devices pales in comparison to the security and peace of mind it offers to older adults who wish to age in place.
Keep Lighting Even Throughout the Home Working to reduce the risk of falls doesn’t only involve home modifications. There are more subtle and affordable changes that can help achieve the same goal. For example, keeping a home’s lighting balanced can improve visibility and stability. As we age, our eyes have difficulty adjusting quickly to sudden changes in lighting, whether we go from darkness to light or vice versa. To help combat this problem, seniors should keep all rooms at the same brightness setting. This is especially important in hallways, staircases, and other tight places.
Remodeling Bathrooms for Greater Accessibility Bathrooms are tricky places for seniors to maneuver. And since these rooms are frequented more than once a day, it’s necessary to make some modifications to help reduce the chance of a fall. You can start by adding grab bars around the toilet and bathtub for greater stability and support. Bathtubs and showers with high entrances also pose a threat. If you can afford the renovation, a no-threshold entry makes it much safer and easier for a senior to get in and out. Aging in place is a goal for many seniors who want to maintain their independence, quality of life, and reduce their visits to the ER and doctor’s office. Since seniors are at a high risk of falling and sustaining permanent injuries, it’s necessary to make some lifestyle and home changes to help reduce this tendency and make it possible to age in place comfortably. Photo Credit: Pixabay
Given the risk of chronic disease increases for all of us as we age, it’s not surprising that two out of three older Americans have multiple chronic conditions. These conditions often involve complex treatments, like juggling a handful of different medications. That’s why we put together this toolkit. This medication management guide will empower seniors, caregivers, and family members with helpful information about medication use, storage, organization, and more.
In this guide, you’ll learn how age changes our response to medication, and how to keep track of the medication you’re taking. You can also find out how you can reduce your medication error and drug interaction risks.
Throughout this guide, you’ll find tips for becoming a more active part of your own health care. We believe education empowers you. Of course, it’s important to always check with your doctor or pharmacist before you take any new medication or make changes to your medication regimen, so be sure to ask your healthcare provider how the information in this guidebook can apply to your individual health.
Effective medication management requires teamwork
You’re an important part of your own health care—which is why you should educate yourself and be an empowered consumer. To be successful, you’ll need to partner with your healthcare team to keep them informed and work together to make the right medication adjustments. Instead of prescribing medication once and refilling it for the rest of your life, your doctor needs to be aware of health status changes that may affect or even eliminate your need for certain medications altogether.
“I would also recommend asking if there are any medications which are no longer needed,” says Erin Pitkethly, pharmacist at Robinsong Health Low Carb Clinic. “It is very common for meds to be added on, but it is uncommon for them to be stopped even when they are no longer needed. ”
Adding to the potential confusion, many seniors have a mix of different medicines, some of which are prescription and some that are not. Even if it’s just a medicine you take for a temporary condition, it’s important to read labels and understand why you’re taking every drug.
Regardless of the type of medication, it should have a label with basic information that can serve as your guide and starting point.
Reading medication labels
As you review your new prescription, be sure to read the label carefully for information on dosage, timing, interactions, and other important medication management details.
Typically, a prescription label has eight parts and types of information. Keep in mind that your own prescription labels may look somewhat different, but they will generally have similar content listed for you to reference. Learn to recognize these parts on your own medications:
Pharmacy information: Name and address, phone number, and other key details about the pharmacy that filled your prescription.
Your information: Name and address of the person the drug is prescribed to.
Prescribing doctor’s information: Physician or healthcare provider’s name and contact information are also included.
Drug name and strength: Medicine’s brand, chemical, or generic name along with the strength of one unit of the prescription in a measurement such as milligrams (mg).
Instructions: Instructions might read “Take one tablet twice daily, morning and night, by mouth” and explain how and when to take the medication. Always read the instructions section carefully for any new medication, and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions.
Prescription information: Date your medication was prescribed, the date your medication was filled by a pharmacist, the number of pills or doses provided, how many times your prescription may be refilled, when your medication expires, and the number your pharmacy assigned to your prescription.
Pharmaceutical manufacturer information: Name of the company that manufactured your medication and a physical description of the drug. If it’s a generic version of a brand-name drug, the name of the branded counterpart may also be listed here.
Federal caution statement: Prescription warnings such as “Caution: Federal law prohibits transfer of this drug to any person other than the patient for whom prescribed.” Remember, you should never take someone else’s medication even if you’ve taken it before. It’s dangerous to take medicine that’s not prescribed for you and doing so could put your health at serious risk.
An over-the-counter medication you can purchase without a prescription has a different label, called a drug facts label. Here’s what that usually includes according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations.
Active ingredient(s): The therapeutic ingredients within your medication and the amount in each dose.
Uses: Any symptoms or condition the medicine is designed to treat or prevent.
Warnings: This section tells you when you shouldn’t use this medicine, lists possible side effects and drug interactions, lists any conditions that may require a doctor’s advice before taking the medicine, tells you when you should stop taking the medicine and see a doctor, and provides other critically important information about taking the medication. Read this section carefully. If you’re concerned about anything you see, talk to a healthcare professional.
Inactive ingredients: Other substances added that don’t have a therapeutic effect, such as colors or flavors.
Purpose: The medicine’s category or action is included (for instance, antacid or pain reliever).
Directions: Dosage information may offer different doses for different ages or symptoms. It may also direct you to ask a doctor.
Other information: Anything else the manufacturer wants you to know about the medicine. It may include information about how to store the drug. It may also list how much of an ingredient (such as calcium) the medication contains.
When you get a new medication, take a look at the label and jot down any questions you have for your healthcare provider. If you’re using medication reminders, add this prescription so everything is ready for the first day of treatment. If you encounter anything unusual or confusing on your label, check with your pharmacist.
Do keep in mind that your prescription is tailored to your health. Even if a friend or family member is taking the same medicine, your medication may work differently for you. This is one reason why it’s absolutely essential to refer to your healthcare team for medical advice and information instead of other sources (like the internet) meant for a broad audience. Only your healthcare provider can give you relevant guidance for how to take medications safely.
Aging changes our responses to medication
As we age, our bodies change how they interact with medications. Even very healthy people might respond differently to medications than they did in earlier years. Getting the most from your medications is possible with close cooperation with your healthcare team.
How does aging change the body’s reaction to pharmaceuticals? Here are few possible changes.
Metabolism: Your body processes each medication at a different rate. Over time, your metabolism of a particular drug may speed up or slow down. This can increase the risk of side effects or decrease the effectiveness of the drug.
Brain and nervous system: Many drugs impact the central nervous system (CNS) directly and aging can change this process. For example, seniors are more susceptible to the CNS effects of drugs like benzodiazepines and antidepressants.These effects can include increased dizziness or drowsiness for some people.
Kidney and liver function: Since these organs are responsible for filtering and cleaning, any age-related changes to kidney and liver function can adjust how well your body is able to remove medicines and toxins.
Weight changes: Many people gain or lose weight as they experience appetite changes. Some drugs are processed and distributed differently throughout the body depending on your body weight.
“Elders have less tolerance for medications than younger adults,” says Elizabeth Landsverk, MD, a board-certified geriatric doctor and founder of ElderConsult Geriatric Medicine. Dr. Landsverk notes that these changes in how our bodies process medication can lead to different side effects. The timing of new side effects may provide clues to the root cause, however. “If a symptom starts after a new medication, it’s likely a side effect from the new meds,” she says. “Seek the advice of a doctor or pharmacist, they will likely change the prescription. Do not change dosages or try a different medication based on something you read on the internet.”
Aging may also change the dosage you need before your medications are effective. So your healthcare providers should regularly reevaluate the medicines you’re taking to see if new prescriptions are necessary. According to Dr. Landsverk, many seniors gradually lose their appetite and experience weight loss that impacts medication dosage.
If you notice anything different or unusual during treatment, it’s important to bring this up during your next conversation with your doctor or pharmacist.
Medication safety tips and dosage information
Knowing how to manage your medications can be the key to benefiting the most from your treatments. Medicines have the potential to make life-changing improvements to your health. At the same time, your medications are only helpful if you know how to use them correctly.
Ultimately, your doctor or personal healthcare provider and your pharmacist should be your guide on how to use and track your medications. When in doubt, be sure to check with a qualified health professional. Only your healthcare provider or pharmacist knows how your individual health profile, health status, and history impact your medication needs.
Medication safety also means knowing where many seniors go wrong with medication management and how you can avoid those mistakes to protect yourself.
Common medication mistakes and how to avoid them
“The two key challenges that seniors face are polypharmacy (taking lots of pills) and remembering to take them,” says Dr. Ceppie Merry, who holds a Ph.D. in pharmacology. “It can be really complex to remember what to take and when to take them.” Merry also adds that any cognitive decline or complex conditions seniors have can make it even easier to make mistakes when managing your own medications.
Medication errors can have serious consequences for your health. Many people accidentally take the wrong dose, miss doses, or take their medications incorrectly. Don’t panic if you use your medication incorrectly, but do call your doctor if you’re concerned. (If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, call 911.) The adage “better safe than sorry” applies here. This is why you should always keep important phone numbers like your doctor’s contact information nearby in case you need to call their office.
To stay on track with taking your medicines, it helps to have a medication strategy. Here’s what you can do to reduce your risk of a serious medication error.
Take medications consistently: Always take your medications at a consistent time. It also helps with consistency if you can associate taking the medication with a specific event like a meal. For instance, if you take a pill with breakfast at 8 a.m. one day, try to always take that medicine around 8 a.m. when you eat.
Use reminders: Forgetful about taking your medicine? Consider using a reminder app or setting an alarm for each dose.
Prevent interactions: Many medicines can’t be taken together or with specific foods or supplements. A lot of medications interact with citrus fruits, for example. Your pharmacist can help you identify any diet or medication list changes you need to make.
Get a medication review: With every new prescription, ask your pharmacist to review your medication and supplement list. Your healthcare provider may recommend ideas for how to take them together safely. Also, see if you’re eligible for your pharmacy’s medication therapy management (MTM) program. Your pharmacist will sit down with you for a comprehensive medication review at no additional cost to you.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist: If you’re prone to forgetting doses or taking an extra pill now and then, ask your healthcare professional what you should do if this happens. Sometimes, it’s not a big deal. Other medications might cause a serious interaction, side effect, or other serious damage to your health.
Read the literature and instructions: If your medication came with written information or your healthcare provider included instructions, be sure to read these carefully. If anything is unclear, don’t hesitate to make a note of it. Call your doctor and ask for clarification before you start taking your medication. It’s a good practice to read the instructions before you leave the pharmacy, so you can ask the pharmacist.
Have trouble remembering your medications? Here are a few ideas to try.
Use a dosage reminder or pill reminder app: Consider using a smartphone pill reminder app to remind you to take medication.
Set an alarm: Set an alarm for times during the day that you take your medicine. Be sure to keep track of what you’re supposed to take, too.
Make a list: Write down a list of your medicines and the time you take them so you can easily refer back to it later.
Ask for help remembering: If a family member, friend, or caregiver can help you remember, ask for their help.
Add it to your calendar or planner: Write down reminders in your calendar or planner.
Use sticky notes, send yourself emails, or post other reminders: Think about how you manage your time and how you use reminders. Choose a method that works best for you.
Use a pill organizer for medication storage: At most drugstores, you can buy an inexpensive pill organizer with compartments for different times and days. This works best if you take a small number of medications every day.
Keeping your medications organized may also prevent mistakes. Here’s how to get started with tracking and organizing medicines.
Organizing your medications and medication storage
Managing your medications is easier when you can fully account for everything you’re taking. With the help of a healthcare professional (if needed), gather all the medications and supplements you’re currently taking and start organizing them.
Consider these tips to help with medication management.
Create a medication list (if needed, use a medication list template): Write the name of each prescription you’re taking on the list. You can also add information about how often you take each dose and for what condition, but the important thing is to start with a complete list of drug names and doses so your healthcare provider knows where to look and what questions to ask.
Start with supplements: Since so many people don’t consider supplements to be medications, it’s not uncommon for some seniors to take supplements that interact with medications prescribed by their doctors (or contain unhealthy ingredients). Bottom line—your doctor needs to know. Make sure your personal medication list template covers supplements.
List all OTC (over-the-counter) medicines you take: Many seniors take drugstore medications that are sold over-the-counter without a prescription such as acetaminophen (the generic version of Tylenol) for pain relief or calcium carbonate antacids for managing heartburn.
Keep medication packaging: Hold onto the original boxes and containers for your medications so you can quickly refer to the package or label if needed. Package inserts or patient information leaflets are included with the medication so be sure to keep it with the original packaging. A shoebox-size plastic storage bin with a lid or a gallon-size plastic bag are great ways to store packaging and information for medicines you’re currently taking. Always store your medicinesand packaging away from where pets and children can reach them, even if your medicines have child-proof caps.
Pick one pharmacy: Ideally, you should only use one pharmacy so your pharmacist can easily review your other prescriptions and provide you with relevant information about contraindications. If you must use more than one pharmacy for any reason, be sure to provide complete information about the medications you’re currently taking, and make sure the pharmacist has access to this information.
As you organize your medications, don’t forget to check expiration dates and remove medicines you no longer take. Ask your doctor if it’s okay to discard old medication documentation.
Reviewing medicine with your pharmacist or doctor
Periodically, you should have a medication review appointment with your doctor. During these appointments, you’ll want to keep your doctor informed about how your treatment is going. This is also a good time to ask questions and express your concerns. Highlight any side effect you haven’t told your doctor about yet, and mention any frustrations or concerns you have with your medicines. Don’t forget to bring a list of questions with you. Since many doctor appointments are short, make the most of your time together by preparing a list of topics and questions beforehand.
By educating yourself and managing your medications properly, you may get better results from your treatment and you may avoid some of the common risks of using medicines. Your healthcare team is there to help you. Work closely with them and become your own healthcare advocate.
Your body goes through a number of gradual changes as it ages. Your sense of smell and taste are altered, the body loses some of its strength and flexibility, and memory and cognition may slowly diminish. Lifestyle changes and adaptations are often necessary during the later years, but your basic needs stay the same. You still need to exercise, eat nutritious food, find ways to keep your mind active, and pay close attention to your health.
Nutrient-Dense Foods As your sense of taste changes, your food preferences may shift. Foods you once ate with gusto may have lost their luster., but the need for a diet rich in nutritional food remains. Your diet still needs to include vegetables and fruit (the more colorful the better); beans, seeds, and nuts; low- fat dairy, including milk, cheese, and yogurt; protein-rich meats, including seafood, poultry, and eggs; and whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal. Mindful Chef and Hello Fresh, two of Britain’s leading meal delivery services, offer delicious foods made from healthy ingredients, a valuable resource if cooking every day has become too difficult. If you’re looking for some easy and healthful recipes, why not enjoy a breakfast of scrambled eggs over red potatoes and a salmon wrap for dinner (salmon in a whole grain wrap with tomatoes and avocado)? Or, if you’re into really simple recipes, just whip up a can of pinto or black beans and serve with brown rice, oats, or barley. Technology Smart home technology is making it easier for older adults to age in place and live safely in their homes. For those with hearing impairments, smart doorbells allow you to see who’s at the front door, whereas external security cameras help keep your home secure from intruders. These high-tech advantages also let you check on your house from wherever you happen to be, and indoor cameras make it easy for family members to keep an eye on you.
Senior-Friendly Exercise Exercise is an important factor in one’s health no matter what age you happen to be. Even if mobility limitations make it difficult to engage in physical activity, there are many senior- friendly exercises that can be done easily in the comfort of your own home. Just raising your arms and legs slowly can help strengthen weakened limbs, and all you need to do toe raises is a straight-backed chair to lean on. If walking is your favorite form of exercise, start a walking group with friends so you can enjoy some social interaction as you exercise. However you like to exercise, bear in mind the National Health Service’s recommendation that seniors need to do two types of physical activity every week, involving both aerobic and strength exercises.
The NHS and Seniors The National Health Service works to help seniors remain as healthy and independent as possible, for as long as possible. That includes using early identification and self-management assistance to help reduce the period of time an older adult spends in ill health. Check out this online resource on healthy aging. The NHS emphasizes personalized care planning and provides information on maintaining a safe home environment. Older adults who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can find support through Britain’s Alzheimer’s Society. Growing older doesn’t have to mean giving up on an active and enriching life. Your body may have changed, but you don’t have to settle for a sedentary lifestyle. The secret to good health remains much the same for seniors as it always has: exercise, eat a nutritious and well-rounded diet, and pay careful attention to one’s health and in-home safety. It’s a time to try new things, to see new places, and make (or renew) friendships.
Seriously Simple, and Smart, Ways to Plan Ahead for Long-Term Care
Why do you need to plan ahead for long-term care? If you have no clue how to answer this and you are planning for retirement, you could be in for a major financial surprise. Long-term care is expensive and most everyone needs it at some point, so it’s important to take these long-term care planning tips to heart before you finalize your retirement plans.
Be Aware of Medicare Limitations
If you’re looking forward to retirement, you may think you don’t need to plan for long-term care because Medicare will cover it. This is a huge mistake, however, because Medicare offers basically no coverage when it comes to paying for a nursing home, an assisted living home, or in-home care. That’s because this kind of care is considered custodial, rather than medical, and therefore is not included in the coverage that most seniors receive from Medicare. With long-term care, you are more likely to need help with daily tasks such as bathing or dressing, and this is why more involved care is necessary. Medicaid might cover some costs if you’re eligible, or you may be entitled to assistance from the VA if you have served in the military or are an eligible dependent. If neither of these is an option, you will need to come up with other ways to plan for care. However, try not to stress yet. If you are planning well ahead of time, you have some ways to prepare yourself for long-term care.
Make Healthier Changes to Your Life
There’s really no surefire way to prevent the need for long-term care. According to statistics, you may need long-term care at some point in your adult lifetime. You can, however, try to beat the odds by making some simple changes to your life and home. Falls can be a source of debilitating injuries as you get older. Those tricky stairs could lead to a serious fall in the future, so take steps to help yourself age in place at your own home. If you do have steps or stairs, have some secure railings installed on either side to provide support and reduce your risk of falling. You’ll also want to think about fall-proofing your bathroom as time goes on, by installing grab bars in slippery areas. Another simple change you can make is to add better lighting throughout your home. You can swap out to brighter bulbs or add fixtures to ensure areas are lit evenly. Finally, don’t underestimate the impact lifestyle choices can have on your long-term health. Regular exercise and diet can reduce your risk for serious conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and give you a chance for a more independent life.
Research All Your Options for Paying for Care
Paying for long-term care can be a real financial burden, especially if the need comes up unexpectedly. Most American seriously underestimate long-term care expenses, which can run upwards of $100,000 per year if you need to stay in a nursing home. However, you have a decided advantage by choosing to plan ahead. For one, you can research just how much care could cost you, as well as how exactly you can pay for it. If you are in your 50s, for example, you may be able to snag long-term care insurance for much lower monthly payments than someone who is only a few years older than you. When long-term care insurance is not feasible, there are other financial avenues you can include in your long-term care plans. You could pre-pay, plan to receive care from a loved one, or you can get roommates to offset housing costs and allow you to tuck away more funds for care.
Planning for long-term care doesn’t have to be a headache. If you start planning early and going over all your options now, you will have more options to choose from and end up with less stress in the future if you do need some form of long-term care. So, don’t forget to add long-term care to your list of essential retirement planning steps.
Switzerland Telemedicine Market is Expected to Reach Over CHF 500 Million by 2022: Research Forecast
Telemedicine services will be more reliant on cloud-based compared to the web-based as the data or details of every patient is stored on the cloud while treatment. Artificial intelligence will be the future trend in the Tele-Medicine. There will also be more emphasis placed on the use of connected devices which can be continuously monitored at Tele-Medicine Center and required action can be taken. There is a scope that virtual hospitals might come into the picture which will be a central hub and where the patients could be treated via telemedicine.
Companies will enhance their services in order to compete in the market. Medgate will develop more follow-up services for stroke and epilepsy in coming years. Clinical robots are expected to be popular technology in the telemedicine market in future as they will help the specialists to visit their patients regardless of the location. Moreover, the specialists will be able to connect with the patient and X-ray or laboratory reports simultaneously. Personalized telemedicine applications can be made in future for both the patient and the doctor, which will be customized according to the requirements of the customers. Moreover, there will be better integration of EHR software
Radiology has been used effectively in the telemedicine market and fields such as dermatology, mental health and stroke care are also being used heavily. In future, other fields might explore telemedicine further such as psychiatry, neurology and others. Moreover, psychological ailments will become a big challenge for Swiss healthcare which will further increase the demand for tele-psychology.
Switzerland Telemedicine market is expected to register positive CAGR of around 12.4% during the period 2018-2022 in terms of revenue. Providing better data security and adopting different marketing techniques to creating awareness is expected to have positive impact on the overall telemedicine market.
The considerable hype around blockchain is starting to be tempered by enterprises earning practical experience and identifying worthwhile use cases for the technology.
Most of the buzz around blockchain in healthcare has focused on EHRs, interoperability and security, but a new potential for value-based care, precision medicine and a patient-driven healthcare system are emerging as more clear and present opportunities for the distributed digital ledger technology.
While we don’t expect the hope for data interoperability and security to fade away, hospital executives who want to stay abreast of what’s really happening with blockchain will also need to understand these new considerations.
Blockchain and the move to value-based care
A variety of possible use-cases for blockchain are coming into focus for healthcare, ranging from clinical to financial to administrative.
“Traditional healthcare fee-for-service payment systems are overly complex and expensive from an administrative perspective. On average, payment administration accounts for about 14 percent of healthcare spending. Blockchain applications can definitely reduce the waste,” said Corey Todaro, chief product officer at Hashed Health, which leads a consortium of healthcare companies focused on accelerating innovation using blockchain.
Beyond fee-for-service, blockchain as a technical architecture can enable value-based payments to take off and thrive, some experts said.
“Blockchain can enable a smart payment system to match the distributed care teams that will take responsibility for episode- and disease-centered payment models,” Todaro added.
Claims adjudication and billing management is ripe for a blockchain-based system that can provide realistic solutions for minimizing medical billing-related fraud; this is a highly relevant use-case given the amount of fraudulent activities around improper medical billing and reimbursements across the payer industry, said Tapan Mehta, market development executive in the healthcare practice at DMI, a mobile technology and services company.
“For example, in a situation where a health plan and patient are dealing with a contract, the blockchain could automatically verify and authorize information, as well as the contractual processes, eliminating the back-and-forth between multiple parties,” Mehta said. “This would increase transparency and efficiency, leading to lower administration costs, faster claims processing and less money lost.”
Precision medicine and a patient-driven healthcare system
Blockchain-based systems could help drive unprecedented collaboration between participants and researchers around innovation within medical research, particularly in the fields of precision or personalized medicine.
Maria Palombini, director of emerging communities and initiatives development at the IEEE Standards Association, said that blockchain can enable the patient-driven healthcare system.
“The lack of interoperability among data systems in a personal health network is a detriment on patient care,” she said. “Informed patients know that data is critical to enhancing their care and safety. This is beyond safety from data hacks, this is the ability for their healthcare providers to have access to information that will help them better treat the patient.”
There has been a trend in educating patients to manage their health to embrace wellness and prevention, and that may also include the data that is generated out of this practice, she added.
The best type of patient is an informed patient. If blockchain can deliver a patient-managed EHR system, the business of healthcare will be about delivering service and treatment to better health and not owning the patient’s health, Palombini said.
Precision medicine in clinical trials presents another big opportunity for blockchain innovation, Mehta said.
“According to IgeaHub, it is estimated that about 40 percent of clinical trials go unreported,” he said. “In fact, a majority of pharmaceutical research related to clinical trials is completed in silos, thereby making collaboration across an organization’s internal team impossible. This creates crucial safety issues for patients and knowledge gaps for healthcare stakeholders and policymakers.”
The contribution of wearables
Wearables and internet of things devices can also be integrated into the health IT ecosystem via blockchain.
“Health wearables are currently hoarding critical information for clinical research, outcomes of treatments, and disease prevention and management,” Palombini said. “However, in its current state, the information often sits in a repository where raw data may be inaccessible and never has the ability to be shared for other uses.”
If validated, this health data could be secured, shared and verified on a blockchain and the function of the health wearable takes on a whole new role, with, for example, clinical trial patient recruitment, clinical research and treatment of disease.
Indeed, patient-mediated health data exchange holds a big opportunity for blockchain innovation in healthcare. Blockchain can empower patients and data owners to control access to their healthcare data by using the blockchain as a system of record for patient consent and health data transfer activity.
“Today, patients have little access to their health data and cannot easily share with researchers or providers,” said Shahram Ebadollahi, chief science officer at IBM Watson Health. “Giving patients the opportunity to share their data securely, for research purposes or across their healthcare providers, creates opportunities for major advancements in healthcare. Blockchain technology is designed to make this a reality.”
As more and more patients gain that kind of control over their own data it will flow more efficiently across the system to create something a lot closer to a longitudinal view than what exists now and that, in turn, can enable more accurate data, better access to new treatment options and ultimately improved outcomes, Ebadollahi said.
Yes, this is where electronic health records come back into the blockchain picture.
Blockchain and EHRs
One big question is how might blockchain affect the evolution of the electronic health record? Blockchain can enhance EHRs in many ways, presuming healthcare CIOs and other executives want to move in that direction.
“Blockchain will help connect electronic health records across providers, to enable the full view of a patient’s health data, if patients provide the consent to do so,” Ebadollahi said. “This would be through a patient-mediated health data exchange.”
Currently, EHRs focus on clinical data. The fastest growing type of information is exogenous data, from mobile devices and medical devices and including genomics, Ebadollahi added, and blockchain can help connect these disparate sources to the more traditional clinical data.
The electronic health record, in fact, is generated from many different sources – hospitals, doctors offices, labs and more – each acting as the owner of the data. The fragmented network tying things together can be viewed as more about maintaining the business of patient care.
“If we look at the truly disruptive and emerging trend in blockchain and healthcare, the EHR will be created, maintained and distributed by the patient,” said IEEE’s Palombini. “Therefore, no longer multiple health records owned and operated by Healthcare Inc. Instead, it will be one record with multiple compartments containing data that was extracted as a service by one of these entities and given back to the person to add to their health record.”
These entities will no longer own a patient’s health record; they will merely contribute to the data in it as a rendered service, she added. Blockchain could flip the ownership and maintenance of the EHR completely upside down. It could empower patients to choose with whom, how much, and when they want to share their information, and not be beholden to any health system, she said.
Dave Watson Chief Operating Officer of SSI Group said that EHRs and blockchain working together have a long way to go.
“First, EHR vendors have so many pressing enhancements to deliver, and second, without clear and compelling use-cases, why would EHR vendors move blockchain up in the development queue?” Watson pressed. “They may entertain some proofs of concept or simply make positioning statements so they don’t appear to not be on the bandwagon, but that’s not a viable deployment of the technology.”
Blockchain and security
Another area in healthcare where blockchain could have a profound impact, like with EHRs, is cybersecurity. Blockchain can fundamentally change the way healthcare CISOs and infosec teams think about securing data.
“Blockchain offers a new combat strategy because it is not simply a security system, it is a technology that compels every enterprise professional to rethink their business operations in a digital universe,” Palombini said. “Blockchain is not a patch. It’s a whole new approach to distributing, managing and verifying information in a tamper-proof, decentralized system.”
All transactions are time-stamped and replicated in every block visible to permissioned users but can never be altered, only appended. The decentralized nature of the blockchain provides the ability to distribute anonymized, encrypted data that can be verified by credentialed users.
“This can provide traceability for all health data access, with transparency to auditors,” said IBM’s Ebadollahi. “Blockchain can provide integrity of data by maintaining indelible hashes of the data, so that any alterations of the data are detected.”
The distributed digital ledger technology can also can maintain keys for access to data, adding another level of security by working in concert with other systems to produce immutable audit logs, thereby making illegitimate access more difficult, Hashed Health’s Todaro said.
The largest opportunity is rethinking the movement of data in the healthcare ecosystem. Todaro explained that blockchain enables the development of light-data transactional models in which partners can get expanded utility without having to do large-scale data transfers or availability, both of which are sources of cybersecurity risk.
“One might argue that it may not be blockchain the technology that is oversold, but the amount of work to fix existing taxonomies, protocols and policies to fully maximize blockchain may be undersold.”
Maria Palombini, IEEE Standards Association
Hype outpacing reality?
In the end, one might wonder whether blockchain is all it’s cracked up to be. Evangelists sure make blockchain sound like a panacea for all of healthcare’s woes. But is it? Or is there more hype than promise?
Today, the challenge in truly driving innovation in the healthcare system is the inability to obtain and share clean patient health data while maintaining data privacy. The current crop of data management systems are not designed to evenly negotiate the ability to share data while retaining privacy, so the default has been to safe-harbor the data and let data-sharing fall to the wayside.
“The lack of data-sharing has become a true impediment to advancing innovation in drug development and healthcare,” Palombini said. “The true value healthcare providers offer is not the service or product but the data they provide. The data is the key to innovation in finding treatments, disease prevention and more.”
The very nature of blockchain – to distribute information with anonymity in an encrypted and tamper-proof environment – provides the platform to overcome this critical barrier of data-sharing and privacy, Palombini said.
As history has shown time and again, however, technology for technology’s sake cannot fix all problems.
“One might argue that it may not be blockchain the technology that is oversold, but the amount of work to fix existing taxonomies, protocols and policies to fully maximize blockchain may be undersold,” Palombini said.
“It’s important to remember we are just at the beginning of blockchain’s potential in health, so it will take some time before its benefits are fully realized.”
Shahram Ebadollahi, IBM Watson Health
An evolutionary journey
Palombini said that there are already more than 100 blockchains in existence across multiple vertical industry sectors.
“It’s important to remember we are just at the beginning of blockchain’s potential in health, so it will take some time before its benefits are fully realized,” IBM’s Ebadollahi said. “But it’s potential should not be underestimated.”
In the next five to 10 years, patient consent and data exchange backed by blockchain could fundamentally change the way healthcare services are provided by making patient longitudinal data readily available and opening the door to new treatments, new care delivery models and better coordination of care, IBM’s Ebadollahi explained. He pointed to blockchain underlying precision medicine and wellness programs outside the health systems as potentially having a large impact on outcomes.
And the matters of blockchain’s inherent limitations with respect to scalability, confidentiality and governance still need to be ironed out, SSI Group’s Watson said.
Working through those thorny issues will be an evolutionary journey for blockchain-based healthcare applications. Trust and governance are key as the interval between proof-of-concept production-quality technologies gets shorter. And building blockchain networks will require a lot of heavy lifting by software vendors and hospitals alike.
Google, the world’s most used search engine, is partnering with two of the world’s leading health organizations to take the confusion out of symptom searching.
“We worked with a team of medical doctors to carefully review the individual symptom information, and experts at Harvard Medical School and Mayo Clinic evaluated related conditions for a representative sample of searches to help improve the lists we show,” Veronica Pinchin, a product manager on Google’s search team, writes in a blog post introducing Google’s new offering.
“Before symptom search, you really had to know the exact name of what you were looking for to find the best health information,” Pinchin adds. “It was difficult to stumble on the right condition. Health content on the web can be difficult to navigate, and tends to lead people from mild symptoms to scary and unlikely conditions, which can cause unnecessary anxiety and stress.”
About 1 percent of Google’s search queries worldwide are related to medical symptoms. That seems small, but it translates into millions of searches, she notes.
In consultation with Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic, Google has built millions of digital cards for millions of searches.
“Because this is an algorithm, it isn’t perfect,” Pinchin writes. “But we’re going to expand and improve it over time.”
Symptom search is currently available only in the U.S. – and only in English – in Google iOS and Android apps, and in Google.com search results on mobile phones and tablets.
But Google plans to make searches available via desktop browsers and to international markets in more languages, but the company has not indicated when.
In her blog, Pinchin offers some cautionary words: “Symptom search (like all medical information on Google) is intended for informational purposes only, and you should always consult a doctor for medical advice.”