Weekend reading: contact tracing in assisted living/LTC facilities via sensor-based ADL technology raises ethical issues

Contact tracing for COVID-19 is still ‘not quite there’ in many countries, especially those countries like the UK which had created centralized models and were slow to move to the decentralized systems based on Apple and Google’s APIs, the (Gapple? AppGoo?) Exposure Notification system now in use in Ireland and Germany. For the most vulnerable in assisted living, who aren’t using smartphones that ping adjacency to other smartphones and are moving around most of the time within the residence, other approaches have been developed. Already in place in many communities are sensor-based trackers for activities of daily living (ADLs) for both safety and predictive health analytics, as well as provide conveniences such as apartment entry for residents.

As we noted in July, a number of ADL and location trackers have repurposed themselves into highly accurate contact tracers since they retain the history of resident and staff movement. Profiled are CarePredict (ADLs), ZulaFly (location tracking), and CenTrak (location tracking). Residents in many facilities with these systems are early adopters of contact tracing, even if they don’t know it.

While the article is detailed and fairly laudatory about how these systems can assist residents and staff in arresting the spread of COVID-19 which has ripped through nursing homes and senior living, it then diverges into other issues, some worth considering even if some of the verbiage is over the top:

  • These location monitoring systems haven’t been used for infectious disease outbreaks before, but the article admits that the pandemic has presented extraordinary circumstances
  • Use of these systems cannot substitute for effective infection control: staff and resident handwashing, mask wearing, and staff PPE. (Something like wearing a used mask and not washing your hands for the rest of us)
  • These systems are dependent on facility-wide internet/Wi-Fi. Many LTCPAC facilities do not have it, thus creating a digital divide in care even in residences proven to have high-quality care.
  • Resident rights and privacy. Residents apparently have only limited choices in using these technologies, even if they are restricted to their rooms. Not all see the need for monitoring technology for their safety and intrusive ‘alarms’ that bring in staff. There is a real issue around older adults’ autonomy and privacy rights which tends to be forgotten in the balance of privacy and safety, with prediction of illness based on behavior a step further.

Interviewed for this article, Laurie Orlov of Aging in Place Technology Watch, believes “It’s pretty darn useful if you’re in independent living, and you decide to go for a walk. If it’s night, and there’s ice, having a full detection capability that knows where you are is really useful. I think with fall detection, and anything that can help when you’re alone, the benefits exceed the cost of the privacy — assuming that you’re with it enough to opt in.”  Senior Sensors (The Verge)  (Disclosure: Editor Donna consulted for CarePredict in 2017-18)

A counterpoint to this article is also by Laurie Orlov and published on her website, reviewing the future of remote care technology and older adults in 2020. It’s a preview of a to-be-released later this year report.

Categories: Latest News, Opinion, and Soapbox.

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