SenseAide: Digital Eldercare Coming to a Computer Near You
Sri Rao, founder of the Rochester Hills, MI-based startup SenseAide, knows firsthand how challenging it can be to care for an aging loved one, especially from a remote location. After his mother-in-law had a stroke, Rao saw the delicate balance in play that comes after someone suffers a health setback and needs a bit of monitoring, but isn’t ready or able to enter an around-the-clock care facility.
“I saw the challenges: That seniors were often home alone and there was very little collaboration between caregivers, which meant silos of information and silos of care,” Rao explains. “Sometimes, seniors were unable to comply with their doctor’s orders because the regimen was complex or some degree of dementia had set in.”
So Rao devised a way for caregivers and patients to communicate using the phone or by video chatting online using customized tablets. SenseAide’s software allows for the creation of an online care circle that can include family members as well as caregivers, and Rao will set up battery-powered, motion-detection sensors in the patient’s home on the medicine cabinet, for instance, or on a bed pad so that an automated alert will go out to the care circle if the patient has failed to set off the sensors by a given time.
Automated care scripts, developed at Wayne State University, can also be sent throughout the day reminding patients to take their medicine or monitor their blood sugar. There’s also an electronic message board that functions much like a dry-erase board on the patient’s refrigerator, where care circle members can post messages to one another. All of it, Rao says, is HIPPA compliant, and each agency can decide who has access to the information being collected. “There are no alarms, no call centers,” Rao says. “And because of that, we can keep the services inexpensive.” Although each phone call, video chat, and text message are priced differently, Rao estimates that SenseAide service for most customers costs less than $100 per month.
But what about seniors who have difficulty figuring out their remote controls, much less video-chatting? Rao says that the patients are responsible for doing the least technical part of the care continuum—all they have to do is respond to questions via phone, video tablet, or in person. “The care calls are whatever you decide, and every agency will have its own protocol,” Rao says. “We’re providing the platform, and the care agencies can decide how to use the service.”
Rao has been working with Wayne State University incubator TechTown and is in the middle of a pilot program with 25 Michigan nursing homes and conservator firms to further test and refine his software. Rao officially launched his startup last year in Silicon Valley, when SenseAide was one of 80 companies selected to debut at the DEMO 2011 conference, which showcases emerging technologies and innovative products. “My expenses were paid by AARP and there has been a lot of interest since,” he says.
Rao sees a unique opportunity in the upcoming changes to hospital re-admissions ushered in by the Affordable Care Act. Medicare already won’t cover a patient that is readmitted within 30 days of discharge, and Rao says that starting next year, hospitals will be penalized if they can’t bring their re-admission rates down. Rao envisions that SenseAide can play a critical role in the post-discharge care, allowing caregivers to keep track of patients across physical boundaries and agencies and keep them on track. “If the patient’s loved ones are not at home, it’s a small price to pay,” Rao adds. “It used to be that adults looked to finance retirement by selling their homes and tapping into that money. But that story has been so severely damaged that people are looking for anything that helps them stay in their homes longer. “