HOW SMART METERS COULD TRANSFORM HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE
A report by 2020health, commissioned by Smart Energy GB, has highlighted the ways smart meter energy usage data could help care for vulnerable and elderly people, making it easier for them to live in their own homes for longer.
What will healthcare look like in the future?
In just a few years, data from smart meters could be used to help provide better care for people with conditions such as dementia, and potentially reduce the £26 billion a year currently spent supporting sufferers, a third of which is money spent by people with dementia and their families.
850,000 people already live with dementia in the UK and that number is expected to grow to 1.6 million by 2040.
Arlene Phillips CBE, who has had her own experience caring for her father when he had dementia, said:
"It's so hard to detect the signs when you don't live with your relatives. I found out that my father would often leave the hob on overnight — not only was this a symptom of Alzheimer's developing, it was also dangerous. Had this technology been around when I was looking after my father, it would have greatly helped me understand what was happening with him.
"I'm an active campaigner for new research and investment into dementia and I am intrigued to know that if we all have smart meters in the future, it could make it easier for people to live independently in their homes for longer, not to mention making it a little less stressful for people to look after their vulnerable relatives."
I know from experience how hard it is to notice the early signs of dementia in a loved one and how worrying it is, too.
I found out that my father would often leave the hob on all night, which was worrying, but more than that dangerous and he wasn’t aware he was doing it I wish I'd known that was happening much sooner.
So, imagine if a family member could be alerted that Grandma hadn't boiled her kettle for a couple of days, or a doctor could be notified that one of their patients was frequently watching TV in the middle of the night.
Both could indicate early signs of diseases such as dementia.
Well, a new report illustrates how that could happen in the near future, thanks in part to smart meters.
Smart meter data, with consumer consent, could be fed into a system which recognises patterns of appliance use over time and starts to learn the routines.
If unusual energy patterns were identified, such as failing to turn the cooker on, relatives or health care workers could be alerted that the person may need support.
This, in turn, could help people to remain in their own homes for longer.
It could also support family members and help alleviate pressure on our already stretched NHS.
Future smart meter benefits
Caring for the elderly and vulnerable
With the consent of the householder, energy usage data from smart meters could be used as a non-intrusive way to help keep people who have a long-term condition, or are vulnerable in other ways, in their own home for longer.
Irregularities in patterns of energy use behaviour could alert relatives or healthcare workers that the individual may need additional support.
So, for example, if there were no signs of electrical usage or heating in the house of an elderly person, a text alert could be sent to a carer or trusted relative suggesting that they check up on them.
There are already products on the market offering this service. But by installing smart meters into every house in Britain we could create the platform to support future services at large scale.
Identifying families at risk of fuel poverty and providing support
Around one in seven UK householders are living in fuel poverty, unable to afford to heat their homes to the temperature needed to keep warm and healthy. Living in fuel poverty and cold living conditions can worsen many common physical and mental health problems, for people of any age.
There is evidence that with smart meter energy usage data, housing data and historical weather data over time, it could be possible to remotely detect these unhealthy living conditions; which could help prevent related health problems.
This data would be taken only with the consent of each individual household.
Self-monitoring to improve wellbeing
Smart meters help us spot ways to to reduce our energy use, which in turn can lead to cheaper bills and decreased fuel poverty.
A smart meter in-home display shows in near real-time exactly how much gas and electricity a customer is using, how much it's costing, and – in the case of a meter in prepay mode – how much credit is left.
Or customers can choose a smart time-of-use tariff, which allows them to shift energy use to more cost effective times of the day.
What is Telehealth and why is it important?
Telehealth is the use of digital technologies, such as computers or smartphones, to help care for patients with long-term conditions in a convenient, accessible and cost effective way.
Smart meters could potentially be a large-scale form of Telehealth, with their data providing valuable insights into people's health and wellbeing.
Telehealth systems support people with long-term conditions to:
- self-manage their conditions
- remain more independent
- reduce hospital stays and allow early discharge
- reduce their dependency on primary health and GP services
It can also improve access to care for people with mobility issues or people who are unable to get time off work.
Smart meter health research
To read the 2020 Healthcare report, click here to download.
To register your interest in getting a smart meter installed, enter your energy supplier's name in the box below.
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