Technology, Negligence and the Dark Side of Nursing Homes

Technology, Negligence and the Dark Side of Nursing Homes

Nursing homes are places where we place our utmost trust and confidence in highly trained medical professionals. We expect our relatives and parents to be treated with dignity and respect. Given the vulnerability of elderly and disabled patients, we understand the need in adhering to nursing home safety and security protocols in order to protect our loved ones. However, following protocols does not always occur.

A 2014 study conducted by the National Ombudsman Reporting System (NORS) revealed that 7.6% of 188, 599 complaints were a result of abuse, gross neglect, or exploitation in care homes. Another study reported that a high percentage of victims of elder abuse suffered from dementia.[i] As elder abuse is on the rise[ii], the need for technology has become increasingly important.

Technology can increase the chances of catching elder abuse and it can also act as a deterrent. The use of technology to counter elder abuse can involve enhanced surveillance systems, integrated monitoring software that is connected to the vital systems of patients, and inspection equipment that can accurately scan for acute and blunt force trauma.

In the case of verbal elder abuse, the best use of technology occurs in the form of recording devices placed in an open area of the room.

Other forms of technology include the use of computerized data collection techniques, physiological monitoring devices, and sensory-based technologies. Computerized data collection allows enforcement agencies to track the instances of elder abuse, along with malpractice claims. As many malpractice claims are settled out of court, true estimates of malpractice remain difficult to ascertain.

Physiological monitoring devices can measure heart rate and pressure. Enhanced monitoring systems can provide central systems of monitoring that inform staff of unusual changes in the patient’s condition. Bedside monitors and other traditional forms of monitoring serve to alert clinicians to changes in a patient’s condition by providing an alert on a computer monitoring system, but improved technology can allow caretakers to monitor heart situations on an individually controlled mobile device.

In the event that the caretaker is the cause of the malpractice or abuse, staff can be connected to a central database that is connected to other clinicians that are working the same shift. This technology would require the cooperation of staff in nursing homes and an additional staff member to manage the central operating system.

While most care homes suffer a shortage of staff and funding, hiring additional staff may not be feasible. Alternatively, such technology could work on a basis in which staff on hand take alternating shifts in monitoring the central system.

While technology plays an important role in combating negligence and elderly abuse, it is not an end-all solution. In areas that cannot be monitored- such as restrooms and changing areas, technology is at odds with protecting the elderly, as these accounts of abuse are not easily proven. In such cases, the only evidence of malpractice or abuse may take the form of a bruise or a wound.

Patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia pose an additional concern as these patients may have difficulty communicating or remembering the abuse. While these are some of the concerns that technology must reconcile with, there are several ways to counter the burden of proof for malpractice claims.



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