An interview with Rob Flippo, CEO of MobileHelp, about technology innovation to address falls and fall prevention.
Q: What are some of the advances in technology for fall prevention you are seeing in the marketplace?
A: When you’re talking about fall prevention, there are two aspects for consideration: the first (and in my mind most important) is risk assessment.
Understanding if you are at risk for falling allows you to devise a strategy around preventing that type of an emergency. And risk assessment can be as simple as looking at lifestyle and medical factors, with an understanding of the primary issues that cause falls. For example, we know one reason people fall is due to medication errors. If you have a series of medications you manage, that should factor iinto your personal risk assessment.
The second aspect of fall prevention is mitigating that known risk by incorporating devices designed for safety. Anyone identified as a person who is high-risk can incorporate aspects of safety into their living spaces. I mentioned earlier that medication error accounts for a large portion of falls: there are now high-tech solutions that help people manage their medications – from “smart” pill bottles to PERS systems that incorporate medication reminders. On the low-tech side, grab bars, hand rails, and step stools can be installed to incorporate safety elements into the home.
Q: How can these innovations help after a fall has occurred?
A: If a person has had a fall, the risk of a subsequent fall is 50 percent more likely in the next six months. In this case, incorporating the components we discussed above – from risk assessment to implementation of safety support – is critical to rebuilding strength.
If a person has a fall, getting help in the first hour increases survival rates by 6 times. Having an emergency response device or support systems in place can mean the difference between a quick trip to the ER versus several days in the hospital.
Q: Why is it important to prevent falls before they happen?
A: Falls are the number one cause of injury and death among older adults, and the cost of treating and managing falls represents one of the largest costs to the healthcare system, as well as to patients and families.
For this reason, the healthcare and technology industries have come together over the past decade to look at fall prevention in the way I previously described: assess risk and design solutions to address the risk.
Q: What role do certain medications play in falls? How can medication reminders assist in preventing falls?
A: As I’ve mentioned, medication errors account for about 60 percent of all fall emergencies – either due to missing a dose or doubling up on one. Medication reminders can help people manage their medications, and anyone who has been on a medication knows how complex it can be to manage just one or two. Managing five or six only exacerbates the issue exponentially.
Our medication reminder program allows people to add medications to their personal account online and set times to have their medical alert system remind them to take their meds.
Q: Is the attitude shifting around fall prevention and fall prevention devices?
A: At the professional level, the healthcare providers and hospitals we work with are deeply aware of the importance related to fall prevention and are starting to implement fall management programs on a system-wide scale.
At the consumer level, patients at home may or may not be willing to admit to they have had a fall out of embarrassment or fear around loss of independence. This is where I feel the technology industry can really step in to help – there are solutions on the marketplace now that are tablet-based (which the grandkids will envy when they see them) as well as tech-savvy devices (such as smartwatches and other smart wearables) that not only address the stigma attached to emergency response devices, but allow patients to track other aspects of their lives, from activity levels to heart rate to sleep.
Ultimately, the combined drive from both the technology and healthcare industries will provide a more comprehensive solution for patients and their providers to address fall prevention.