Reimagining the future of patient recovery at home

Technology can help ease patient recovery at home following a hospital stay.

Trends in the healthcare space are shifting away from more traditional inpatient models toward compressed hospital stays and more outpatient procedures. This push has created a new paradigm where patients make a quicker transition to in-home recovery, which is partially brought on by the pressure that hospitals face due to rising costs and demand for revenue growth. While this shift toward home care will continue to change how hospitals operate, there are opportunities to increase value and care for patients and healthcare systems alike.

Care after the patient leaves the hospital might sometimes feel like an oxymoron, but it’s not. In fact, care often extends to the home and it enables patients to more comfortably return to health, often recovering faster with fewer complications in the familiarity of their own home. But when patients return to the chaos of daily life, the clinical care that was the primary focus of their hospital stay becomes intermingled with the many responsibilities of home, work, and family. Add in the anxiety from the uncertain challenges of recovery from a serious event and it can all be extremely overwhelming for the patients and their families. On top of it all, health literacy rates tend to be extremely low — only 12 percent of US adults are considered to have proficient health literacy — which adds to the difficulty and stress of managing one’s own care.

With new opportunities for health systems come new challenges to consider, such as how hospitals can help patients be more successful during their recovery at home. To start tackling this new challenge, we broke it down into some smaller questions and prompts:

  • How can we improve care in home environments, which can be incredibly varied and lack the controls and recovery-oriented infrastructure of a hospital?
  • How do a patient’s clinical objectives translate to personal goals to help them personally engage in their care?
  • When complications arise, how do we equip and guide patients who are typically passive participants in their care?
  • How can we inform and support caregivers and the people in a patient’s life?

At Moment, we continuously ask a lot of these types of questions and explore what’s next for healthcare as an industry. Here, we’ll take a deeper look at the experience of patients transitioning from the hospital to home by imagining what a better transition could look like in the very near future.

What will better in-home physical therapy look like?

Depending on the injury or type of surgery, a significant amount of patients need physical therapy after they return home from the hospital. However, it can be tricky for patients to do their therapy correctly and effectively without the oversight and support of a clinician. When patients perform their therapy incorrectly, too infrequently, or too much, it can lead to further injury and longer recovery times. Here, we examine how patients can do their physical therapy correctly, without a clinician or professional in the room.

Before the patient leaves the facility, physicians and physical therapists could leverage emerging technology like augmented reality or mixed reality to set up personalized instructions for patients to follow during rehabilitation.

At home, a patient wearing augmented reality glasses or contact lenses could do their therapy properly with the interface’s guidance. A tool records the patient’s progress and reports back to the physician or therapist. Both the doctor and the tool could recommend new activities as the patient heals and becomes stronger, leading to a full recovery.

How can an AI provide better coaching and encouragement?

As patients return back to regular life, it’s difficult to stay engaged and focused on recovery, especially because “home” is so much more than the comfort of one’s house. It also means returning to work or school, going to the grocery store, and everywhere else in between. There are many gadgets already available that help people track activities, record biometrics, and manage tasks for their medical care. However, they lack the ability to fully meet patients on their level because they don’t offer emotional support and lack the intelligence to understand the complexities that can motivate patients to follow their care plan. Studies indicate that a positive outlook can improve health outcomes, so how could an AI help to support patients by merging their personal goals with a hospital recovery?

A smart digital coach could learn an individual’s preferences and schedule activities that fit into their daily life. It could provide targeted support and encouragement at critical moments to avoid throwing a patient off track in the same way today’s fitness trackers might prompt you to “get up and move.” A truly smart digital coach should continuously learn and improve how it communicates with an individual. Thanks to AI, it could have the ability to be less biased than a human companion. It would offer positive communication for the patient long past the point where a human coach or family member may get frustrated and give up.

How can sensing technology support families and caregivers to stay informed about loved ones?

When a patient returns home, their family and friends can become very involved in their recovery. Independent patients coming home to a significant amount of responsibilities, like a young family or demanding work life, may face challenges of overexertion, throwing their recovery time off track. Patients that require a higher level of caregiver involvement — due to age or severity of injury — tend to need more constant monitoring, which can be costly or difficult to coordinate.

Relatively independent patients recovering from surgery in, say a home with their family, could use a shared smart device that keeps everyone aware of their needs, without ever having to ask for help. In order to get a much-needed break from chores and cooking, a sensor detects that the patient should rest and lets everyone in the household know so they can pitch in. The patient avoids scenarios where they might otherwise overexert themselves and cause a re-injury or complication.

In a different situation, being a more involved caregiver is a huge responsibility, especially when it’s a loved one. The adult child as caregiver has to learn how to manage their loved one’s health and how to identify the signs of complications before they become too serious. This can be especially hard due to the emotional nature of caring for a parent whose health is deteriorating. On top it all, the caregiver still has to go about their daily life.

A smart bracelet that connects the patient and caregiver — like an elderly woman and her adult child — while the caregiver is at work or away, is a lightweight, visible indicator of how a patient is doing. In the patient’s home, the bracelet monitors their behavior and vitals in real time. The peace of mind that comes with knowing the caregiver will be made aware of her mother’s condition is invaluable, even when she can’t be with her. When a patient needs further attention or irregular behavior is detected, the bracelet subtly indicates that the caregiver may need to take action or check her phone for more information. The system also instructs the caregiver on how to respond, especially in non-emergency situations, such as making an appointment to see a physician. Being able to proactively plan ahead for appointments supports the caregiver and prevents emergency situations.

Where we go from here

The value of better recovery in the home is immense. Improved support at home means patients can go home sooner without risking negative impacts to their recovery. Better data gathering and information sharing with physicians reduces the need for in-person follow-ups and helps people get back to their normal lives. Smarter symptom identification and tracking can reduce complications and emergency visits. All of these have huge potential cost savings for both patients and health systems and improved quality of life for patients.

The opportunity to support patients when they go home from the hospital is largely untapped. As technology and behaviors continue to evolve to support the shift from hospital to home, we’ll keep exploring and offering solutions to new challenges that arise.