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Medical Devices and Healthcare IT

How Smartwatches Can Make Nursing Homes Safer

01 August 2016

In a typical nursing home, there are still plenty of elderly people experiencing dangerous falls, as well as staff taking too long to respond to any potential dangers. Most of the time these instances are due to poor communication systems within the nursing home.

Now a team of engineers from Binghamton University has developed a smartwatch application that can help certified nursing assistants (CNAs) respond to alerts more quickly and help prevent falls.

 The smartwatch application could improve communication and notification systems for nursing homes, which are often faulty and inefficient. (Image Credit: John Brhel/Binghamton University) The smartwatch application could improve communication and notification systems for nursing homes, which are often faulty and inefficient. (Image Credit: John Brhel/Binghamton University)

The application is in development by Binghamton University Research Assistant Professor of Systems Science and Industrial Engineering Huiyang Li and Ph.D. candidate Haneen Ali. It is intended to improve communication and notification systems, which can be faulty and inefficient.

The proposed design incorporates all of the existing safety systems at nursing homes, such as call lights, chair and bed alarms, wander guards, and calling-for-help functions, and provides alerts to users.

The team has provided a final design to some nursing experts in geriatric care as well as some local nursing homes. An ongoing evaluation study shows that using this system reduces staff response time to alarms.

"The problem associated with not responding in time is that residents tend to stand up or go to the bathroom by themselves. If they're not strong enough, they can't support the weight. And if they have to wait, they will just get up and go. And that leads to falls," said Li. "We wanted to design a better system that improves notification and also, potentially, communication in nursing homes. The improvement of notification will potentially help staff to do a better job and, eventually, improve patient safety. Whenever residents need help, they have a way to call for help, and messages will be delivered to staff in an effective way."

To send an alert, most nursing homes will use a call light system, in which residents push a button inside of their room, or bed and chair pads with pressure sensors notify staff when a resident sits or stands up. However if a nurse is working down the hallway, he or she might not hear or see these alerts.

"With our system, we provide an informative and customized message for different alarms. The message contains the resident's name, the type of alarm, the room number and the CNA who is responsible. The smartwatch will be on the CNA's wrist, so it's accessible all the time. They can see the message, hear the alarm and feel the vibration, whether they are working down the hallway or inside the rooms," said Li.

Now, using the application, a CNA can see different displays, personalized to his or her specific task assignment.

When CNAs start their shift, they will sign in and add their assigned residents. When a resident triggers an alert, a message will pop up on everyone's screen indicating who the resident is, his or her room number and the type of alert (for example, an exit from a chair).

"The alert message is more informative than the existing system and, at the same time, it will help nurses to prioritize. We will mark or highlight alarms from residents who are actually assigned to whoever is using the app," said Li.

The duo plans to test the final system at real nursing homes in the future, and they acknowledge the added cost that comes along with purchasing smartwatches for every employee. However they believe the benefits of the application will far outweigh the cost.

"Falls, skin problems—these kind of facility-acquired conditions can cost a hospital a lot of money. If the system can actually reduce falls, reduce adverse events, improve patient safety and also improve quality of care, hospitals will save money," said Li.

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