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Wearable Bluetooth tracking devices reveal the quality of care homes

17 May 2024

Data from wearable Bluetooth devices offer a novel way to measure and improve the quality of care in residential homes, revealing critical insights into social interactions between staff and residents.

Wearable Bluetooth devices can shed light on the care that residents of care homes are receiving and which residents are most in need of social contact, according to a new study published this week in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Carl Thompson of University of Leeds, UK.

In the UK alone, nearly half a million people reside in some form of care home, including long-term care facilities, nursing homes and residential homes. 

There is no single reliable method that works well to evaluate care home quality, in part because care homes are complex social systems with diverse interacting groups.

In the new study, researchers tested the feasibility of collecting social network metrics on people in care homes by using Bluetooth devices worn by both staff and residents. 

More than 250 people in four UK care homes were involved in the study. Over two months, the researchers collected data on 204,087 interactions between people.

Just two percent of all interactions recorded by the devices lasted longer than two minutes, and more than 65 percent of those longer interactions were between staff members. Moreover, in only one of the four care homes, residents had as many social interactions as staff. 

Overall, most interactions between people occurred in communal areas such as dining rooms and lounges, with staff and smoking rooms also being focal points for interactions. 

The data also allowed researchers to identify staff and residents with the strongest and weakest social connections to their communities, based on the frequency and length of their interactions with other people.

The study was limited by the fact that data was collected in only four homes and was not collected with any context or any information about whether a social interaction generated positive or negative feelings. 

However, the authors conclude that wearable devices worn by care home residents and staff are capable of generating useful data for quality improvement. 

Data emerging from this study could be utilised to implement initiatives aimed at improving the lives of residents by reducing their isolation and increasing interaction between staff and residents.

The authors add: “Relationships and social contact are what transforms merely safe and adequate long-term care into high-quality, outstanding, long-term care. This paper shows how wearable contact tracing technology can help ensure social contact and relationships are a part of quality long-term care for more people that live and work in care homes.”

Image credit: Thompson et al., 2024, PLOS ONE, CC-BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)


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