Smartwatch for Nursing Home Staff May Improve Communication, Prevent Resident Injuries

August 2, 2016

Researchers from New York are developing an app that could help prevent falls in nursing homes (NHs) and allow certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to respond more quickly to alerts.

Poor communication systems at NHs can lead to serious injury for residents who are not tended to in a timely manner. To address this issue, Huiyang Li, PhD, Binghamton University (Binghamton, NY,) and PhD candidate Haneen Ali are developing a smartwatch application to improve communication and notification systems for NHs.

The design will integrate existing NH safety systems—such as call lights, chair and bed alarms, wander guards, calling-for-help functions—and provide customized alerts to users. After preliminary testing and evaluations with prospective users, a final design received excellent feedback from nursing experts in geriatric care and at local NHs. So far, an ongoing study has shown that the smartwatch reduces staff response time to alerts.

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“With our system, we provide an informative and customized message for different alarms. The message contains the resident’s name, the type of alarm, the room number, and the CNA who is responsible. The smartwatch will be on the CNA’s wrist, so it's accessible all the time. They can see the message, hear the alarm, and feel the vibration, whether they are working down the hallway or inside the rooms,” said Dr Li.

Every CNA who uses the app sees a different display, as it is personalized to the user’s specific task assignment. When CNAs start their shift, they will sign in and add their assigned residents. When a resident triggers an alert, a message will pop up on everyone’s screen indicating who the resident is, their room number, and the type of alert (eg, an exit from a chair).

While buying a smartwatch for every employee would be an added expense to facilities, the researchers believe that the benefits of this app would far outweigh the cost, particularly with the increasing availability of low-cost smartwatches. “Falls, skin problems—these kind of facility-acquired conditions can cost a hospital a lot of money. If the system can actually reduce falls, reduce adverse events, improve patient safety, and also improve quality of care, hospitals will save money,” said Dr Li.

Dr Li and Ali hope to test the system soon using a high-fidelity prototype in NHs. Their paper “Designing a Smart Watch Interface for a Notification and Communication System for Nursing Homes” was presented at the 2016 Human-Computer Interaction International Conference. —Amanda Del Signore