Clever Touchscreen Keeping Retirement Village Residents Safe During COVID-19
Residents from two Christchurch retirement villages operated by Qestral Corporation are monitoring their own health during the COVID-19 pandemic at the mere push of a button. They are the first in the country to use a new wireless touchscreen which accurately records their vital health information daily, or hourly if needed, alerting nursing staff if they have emerging symptoms causing concern.
Qestral Corporation discussed the project internally for years before starting to develop the touchscreen 3 years ago in partnership with age-friendly technology company Spritely. It has a range of features and now includes a COVID-19 screening tool backed by Callaghan Innovation and MBIE. Spritely received funding to develop a system that monitors the health of vulnerable New Zealanders during COVID-19 and to examine its potential to be adopted more widely in the retirement village sector. Independent unit residents from Alpine Village and Burlington in Christchurch will be the first to test the product.
It’s very important for operators in this sector to keep innovating” says Qestral’s Managing Director Simon O’Dowd. “This product has the potential to really improve safety for staff and residents right across the industry. We are delighted to be pioneers in this field for the aged care sector”.
Qestral Corporation and Spritely rolled out the touchscreen system to all independent unit residents last year. Almost 400 residents are now confidently using the tablets across both villages.
Spritely Chief Executive Christopher Dawson says with New Zealand again on high alert after COVID-19’s community re-emergence, new tech solutions to monitor the health of our most vulnerable citizens has never been more vital.
“We saw with the first wave of the virus how incredibly at-risk older people can be” says Dawson. “Seniors want to be able to take charge of their own health and ensure, for peace of mind, that their health is being checked regularly by nursing staff from the village”.
The tablet monitors five key health indicators; temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, blood oxygen saturation and weight. The independent unit residents use the latest wireless equipment to take their own recordings easily and accurately. They also use the tablet to record symptoms and answer questions about health and travel history including close contacts. The data is remotely monitored by specialist nursing staff. If residents are worried, its simple to set up a telehealth video consultation with one of the on-site nurses.
The system benefits the nursing team too – they can talk to and clinically assess the resident without the need to don PPE, thereby avoiding face-to-face contact during COVID-19 self-isolation periods. This not only saves staff time but most importantly, eliminates the risk of any transmission to the most vulnerable rest home and hospital-level patients back at care centre. If a resident’s health deteriorates, nursing staff can intervene more directly, calling the resident’s GP or an ambulance, who can uplift the patient armed with accurate, up-to-date readings of their vital signs.
The tablet is also programmed to display the latest official government COVID-19 advice, allow residents to re-order prescription medications for non-contact delivery from their local pharmacy, plus keep residents up to date with the latest retirement complex news and allow them to book village social activities.
Tech entrepreneur Christopher Dawson first developed a prototype of the tablet to monitor the welfare of his parents after his Dad took a fall in 2015. He says he immediately saw the potential for it to be developed further and was pleased to find that Qestral was already going down this track. With this symbiosis, Qestral and Dawson launched Spritely.
“There is a gap in the technology landscape for retirement villages” says Dawson. “They use a lot of different technology but virtually none of it is designed for the residents to use themselves. Some senior New Zealanders aren’t confident enough with current COVID-19 technology such as smartphone apps, QR codes and patient portals which can inadvertently exclude them. This tablet system is a solution to these issues and is easy to use and understand”.
Spritely’s recent government funding comes from the MBIE COVID-19 Innovation Acceleration Fund. MBIE is interested to see if comprehensive daily screening can help retirement villages contain COVID-19 outbreaks and whether the system might potentially be scaled up and adopted in other villages if successful.
“Retirement villages want to be vigilant in this COVID-19 era” says Dawson. “We are helping them by developing this technology to add an extra layer of protection for residents without putting extra pressure on their workforce”.