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Is Big Brother Watching?
Telehealth Brings New Privacy Concerns

By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 3)

Systems like QuietCare meet the Institute’s criteria for a “moderate-technology level.” QuietCare places small sensors in the home that record events of daily living and gather information based on movement around the sensor. A sensor that is positioned by the bed, for example, would give a caregiver or physician data about when a person went to bed for the night or took naps during the day. If someone is prone to wandering at night, this same sensor would report when the person left the bed, returned, and perhaps left again. A caregiver could then help the patient discuss night wakenings with a physician to determine if it is a cause for concern.

David Stern, CEO of QuietCare, noted that telehealth systems need to be “mindful” of how these systems are used in the home, “allowing for appropriate help at the appropriate time.” He also said that physicians are often amazed at how much information about a person’s daily activities can be captured from sensors like those his company installs.

There are “high-technology” systems that can record much more complex pieces of data, providing, at times, intimate information about a person’s daily life. For example, radio tags can be inserted into clothing and household items that transmit data back to a monitoring system when these items are worn, touched, or otherwise activated. Pressure systems in a person’s favorite chair can tell a caregiver how long a person sits during the day, providing information about the amount of physical activity that the patient may have during the day. Cameras in the house can give snapshots (either “still shots” or streaming video) of the overall activity level. There are systems that can record and transmit information about a person’s weight, blood pressure, temperature, blood sugar, and other vital statistics. For patients with serious chronic illnesses like congestive heart failure, these types of systems may be the best fit since a change in weight could signal a need for an immediate doctor visit.

Addressing Privacy Concerns in Advance:

Experts in the field suggest that before caregivers and patients consider installing a home monitoring system, that they take the time to assess a variety of questions. These can include:

  • Who will have access to the information?
  • How will that information be used or shared?
  • If caregivers can access the information, have they been trained in using the technology and reporting systems?
  • What are some short-term goals that families expect to meet by installing a home monitoring system?
  • In the long-run, what will the family gain by having the technology in place?
  • What happens in case an emergency occurs? In families with more than one caregiver, who will respond?
  • Who will pay for the system? Insurance and Medicare are reluctant to provide payment. Private pay or subsidies by an organization in the community may be an option.


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