Remember when a fitness center was just a handful of stationary bikes and a collection of free weights? How times have changed. Today's multifamily fitness facilities can be anything from medical clinics to cardio theaters, where residents can find a host of technology—glucose detectors, heart and blood pressure monitors, sensors that track movement and climate controls—that they and their family members and doctors can use to track their health and fitness.
Like so many trends, baby boomers are driving this emerging interest in medical, wellness, and fitness applications in the home. This influential generation, which numbers more than 76 million people, is doing the inevitable: aging. So are their parents, many of whom are cared for by their boomer children. As boomers grey, they have focused on wellness and fitness, doing whatever they can to stay healthy and living in their own homes as long as they can. They hope to do the same for their elderly parents, leading to boomer interest in new ways to keep tabs on the medical conditions of their parents and themselves.
Such efforts are not surprising, considering the high cost of medical care. Families, physicians, and insurance companies are keen on finding ways of keeping people out of the hospital and assisted living facilities as long as possible. Technology can help them accomplish that goal.
For many people, it already is. Revenue for home healthcare offerings will increase to $2.1 billion in 2010, quadrupling from 2006 revenues, according to “Delivering Quality Health Care to the Digital Home,” a report from Parks Associates, a Dallas-based market research and consulting firm. Parks Associates analyst Henry Wang, who penned the report, notes that “the gradual change in the healthcare service model” make the home as “important a health care facility as physicians' offices, clinics, and hospitals.”
HOUSE CALL In a world where companies such as Nike and Apple have joined forces to use a shoe sensor and an iPod to let runners track their runs and adjust their music selections, anything is possible.
Just as importantly, in the last year or so, the technology needed to offer health care and medical applications in the home have stabilized and matured. The broadband connections needed to transmit data are nearly ubiquitous. Wireless communication is stable enough to accommodate transmissions from sensors placed throughout an apartment or condo unit. Companies such as Honeywell, HAI, and Intel are expanding their automated home security systems to accommodate health and wellness applications, allowing data gathered from sensors and medical devices to be transmitted to people who can track the health and safety of a resident.
“Any alarm system can be set up in a way to call any sensor,” points out Josh Katz, vice president of New Jersey-based Roseland Property Management, which develops and manages apartment, condominium, and townhome communities.
Panic buttons already are common in those systems, but that could be only the beginning. Electronics company Philips recently landed approval to sell its HeartStart Home Defibrillator over the counter to consumers. It's likely that data from such devices could be transmitted, over wired or wireless connections, to medical professionals who can guide the remote treatment of a “patient” and automatically send help.
Companies such as HomMed, AMD Telemedicine, and American Telecare, and others are offering telemedicine applications such as Health Hero, Cardiocom, and Viterion Health that provide patients with a medical device kit that allows medical data to be collected and transmitted to professionals. These applications come with a hub-like appliance, much like a nerve center that receives and then transmits data, and peripheral devices, such as heart monitors, that can be connected to the hub appliance through a USB port and, in the future, wirelessly. Health Buddy Health Hero System serves as an interface between at-home patients and care providers off-site—a common practice among such companies.
Geriatric care monitoring from Living Independently and Healthsense, among others, rely on sensors to detect motion, open doors, and activity in the bathroom and kitchen. They alert care-givers or an appropriate service if a resident's pattern of behavior changes. “When a pattern is broken, the data in the network shows it and caregivers are alerted,” says Bob Heile, chairman of the ZigBee Alliance, an association that promotes the use of sensors in homes and buildings to monitor climate controls, water usage, health and fitness applications, and more.