As more Americans live longer, technologies such as telemedicine, wearable sensors and mobile apps will enable the nation’s aging population to stay at home while remaining connected to caregivers and healthcare professionals.

That’s the finding of a new report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) that undertook a study of technologies that could support older adults during their golden years.

While telehealth industry proponents support the findings of the report and see many indicators pointing to the need for increased remote monitoring, they note that the document is short on specific recommendations for healthcare applications.

“The average age of the American population is increasing, and Americans want to continue to have active and productive lives as they age,” states the PCAST report. “Technology has played an important role in increasing life expectancy, but it also has an important role to play in increasing the quality of life, by maximizing Americans’ ability to function in their later years.”

PCAST cites a recent AARP survey indicating that nearly 90 percent of older adults would like to stay in their homes for as long as possible. Telehealth, in particular, is touted in the report for its potential to enable older adults to remain independent at home, prevent or delay institutionalization, effectively monitor chronic diseases and movement, and coordinate care between multiple providers that are not in the same location.

“Smartphone apps can allow a person to monitor fine motor control, which might be helpful for a patient with Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis,” states the report. “Remote monitoring, wearables and sensors can help seniors age in place while ensuring their safety and maintaining their health.”

According to the report, without remote monitoring technology, people have to be in a specialized facility, such as a nursing home, to have their health monitored continuously. “The advantage of monitoring is that its information can alert a family member, caregiver, or health professional to take immediate action if there is a fall or other problem.”

The report includes four “cross-cutting” recommendations that span a wide range of technologies and eight targeted recommendations concerning specific applications to improve mobility, cognitive function, and social engagement.

“Internet access, telehealth, monitoring technology, emergency preparedness systems, and intentional design are some of the technologies that will support healthy aging for all Americans,” concludes the report. “Implementing these recommendations will help that happen, by ensuring that Americans now and in the future remain independent and connected as they age.”

While Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), likes the report and argues that it does a great job highlighting many of the potential opportunities presented by telehealth to improve the delivery and quality of healthcare and to lower costs, he believes it contains few “concrete” recommendations.

However, Morgan Reed, executive director of The App Association, believes that the report offers positive recommendations around telehealth and wearables, in particular, and would encourage federal agency coordination on strategies to address the aging population.

“Advanced personal emergency response systems (PERS) are key to empowering older populations and helping them live comfortably in their homes years longer than today’s norm,” says Reed. “Further, an increasingly connected approach to healthcare will help lower costs, allow for earlier detection of problems, and ultimately improve outcomes.”

“We look forward to how the Administration will use the information in this report as they shape Medicare regulations and related policy in the year ahead,"

According to Reed, by 2050 there will be 83.7 million Americans over age 65—twice the amount from just four years ago. In addition, he contends that 80 percent will have at least one chronic condition, with a large portion living in rural areas or far from loved ones who could offer support. As a result, Reed predicts that this age group’s rapid growth will severely strain public and private health resources.

Yet, as the PCAST report states: “Keeping people healthy in their homes can reduce Medicare and Medicaid expenditures.” The problem is that Medicare is limited by law in that it only reimburses for telehealth when the patient lives in a rural area and receives the services in a healthcare setting, such as a physician’s office or hospital, rather than in a patient’s home.

The report also notes that there are additional restrictions in the type of telehealth technologies covered by Medicare, the types of clinicians who may participate, and the types of services that can be provided.

ATA’s Linkous says the report’s findings support proposed bi-partisan legislation pending in the Senate and House of Representatives—the CONNECT for Care Act (S. 2484)—that seeks to amend the Social Security Act to promote cost savings and quality care under the Medicare program through the use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring services. An independent assessment shows that if the bill becomes law it would save an estimated $1.8 billion in healthcare costs over 10 years.

“We look forward to how the Administration will use the information in this report as they shape Medicare regulations and related policy in the year ahead,” Linkous adds.

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