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Care Home Technology: The Thin Line Between Privacy and Safety

It’s a given that age and risk rise together — that’s just how biology works. It was unreasonable to hold a care home nurse accountable to monitor a dozen residents at all times. After all, these nurses need to sleep and eat. But, with the surge of care home technology over the last several decades, these nurses are now able to perform more efficiently without sacrificing their own health. The troubles of limited resources, workforce recruitment and morale, and intense case-by-case quality differences may possibly be alleviated — but at the expense of resident privacy and freedom.

With the transition from manual processes to digital systems in care homes, an unfamiliar and novel can of worms is opened. Are the benefits of monitoring technology enough to violate the privacy of residents? What about residents with problems like dementia who don’t even have a say?

Technology and Its Value to Safety

Prior to the successful implementation of bed monitoring systems and alerting pagers, care home nurses were required to scan and assess all rooms. But, that did not give confidence and clarity. After all, there was no guarantee that the resident would be fine after they had left.

That’s one of the main issues that a comprehensive monitoring system is able to solve. Bed monitoring systems increase staff confidence and coordination of practice and are theoretically supposed to reduce their workload. Other technology systems that serve a similar function include fall detection, parameter reminders, and prospective and retroactive memory aids.

With the use of alerting pagers, staff could allocate their time to where they were needed the most; this allows for staff to assist residents at quicker speeds and promote overall safety. The quicker speeds can save lives.

But, these network-based systems are not without fault. False alarms have been the most cited problem — to the point that nurses were beginning to neglect their pagers.

Residential Privacy

As people continue to live older thanks to advances in medical technology, more patients enter care homes with dementia or other cognitive disability disorders. In fact, more than 50% of all residents in care homes are under this category currently.

Rational compliance and agreement is one thing, but what about residents who cannot make their own choices? With the creation of stronger and more intense technology to further propel safety, privacy and safety are bound to clash further. Is it okay to deprive residents’ their rights if they aren’t even aware of their decisions and autonomy? I don’t really know.

As technology continues to evolve, we don’t know how the care home industry will respond. But, one thing is certain. With the change from manual processes to digital systems, they’ll have to decide their stance in the near future.

There is no clear or obvious answer, and people will debate adamantly. While technology has lots of potentials, there are drawbacks as well.

So, in the end, Is there really a line between privacy and safety? If so, where is that line exactly?

Resources

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5490779

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