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Make home-care technology work

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Posted: 10 am ET

Home health care technology for people who are living in retirement ought to be a business opportunity that's taking off like a rocket, but that apparently isn't the case.

Consultancy McKinsey & Co. analyzed what they saw as an enormous missed opportunity and offered a few insights that might be useful for those of us doing retirement planning.

McKinsey points out that diseases that plague older people like heart failure are increasingly not a death sentence but a chronic ailment. Internet-enabled home monitors, apps for mobile health and "telemedicine" could allow many older people and their caregivers to live in "grace and dignity," as the report says, if they had a technology-enabled home.

So why isn't this technology taking over rapidly? McKinsey points out a number of factors, but mostly, the problem boils down to money. Or as McKinsey says, "Every patient successfully kept at home means less revenue for a hospital." It recommends changing how home care is reimbursed by insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid so that there is a motivation for health care providers to encourage home-care technology.

For that to happen, McKinsey says, people like us have to first feel that this kind of care is effective, easy to use and that doctors and hospitals are monitoring the technology, helping us use it better and intervening when things go seriously awry.

McKinsey points out that the Congressional Budget Office estimated that health care reform -- the 2010 Affordable Care Act -- will trim a $39.7 billion from federal home-health care reimbursements over the next decade. Increasing home health care has the potential to make these cuts less onerous. But in order for that to happen, the system has to be not only adopted across the board but also set up in such a way that it isn't rife with fraud. the U.S .Government Accountability Office estimated improper payments for Medicare of almost $48 billion for fiscal year 2010, and it pointed out that expenditures for home oxygen and other home health claims are a particular problem.

In these tough economic times, those of us who will grow old over the next couple of decades have an enormous motivation to understand what's possible and to encourage our legislators and our health care providers to get the technology and the systems working right -- improving our quality of life while reducing what we pay for health care.

To paraphrase an old saw, if we can put a man on the moon, why can't we keep grandma at home in her own bed?

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