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When tech meets health care Samsung is ramping up focus on U.S. health care, hoping products such as wearables can help seniors, caregivers and more

There are several key areas where a wearable can help a senior.-(SAMSUNG)

South Korean technology giant Samsung has been ramping up its presence in the health care space, and its Ridgefield Park location is playing a central role in that expansion.Health care has increasingly become a huge economic driver in the country, piquing the interest of Google, Apple and Amazon, among others.

Samsung has a huge focus on health care in its home country, but it is also looking at impacting the U.S. market through the use of wearables for patients and assisting health care providers through new applications.

Senior care and pain management are two of the increasingly profitable sectors of health care today, and Samsung has plans for each.

Dr. David Rhew, Samsung’s chief medical officer and head of health care and fitness, said there are many unmet needs for seniors living independently and their caregivers.

“We’re in a stage where, as individuals continue to age, the individuals that could be caregivers to the aging population, that ratio becomes unmanageable. We may run into scenarios where seniors will be forced to become more independent and live by themselves,” Rhew said. “For us, the biggest challenge is get ahead of the curve.”

The goal is to offer solutions for safe independent living that focuses on home-based use of technology.

There are some technology companies that have been working on the use of television sets or tablets as a means of communication with a health care provider or caregiver.

But Rhew said there is greater potential for wearables, likes Samsung’s Gear S3, to monitor seniors.

Many wearables now are tethered to phones, but if they could operate independently like the Gear S3 — because staying connected to the internet is increasingly easier through hotspots, or through the phone’s data plan — it opens up a plethora of options for senior care.

There are several key areas where the wearable can help a senior, Rhew said.

First is for emergencies, the equivalent of a new age LifeAlert.

If something happens, such as a person falling or slipping, or being unable to move from their bed or seat, they can push the button on the wearable three times, which would send out a predefined message to emergency contacts, along with a location.

Another key feature would be geofencing — a safety feature that can help reduce the Silver Alerts that law enforcement has to put out regularly for seniors with weakening memories.

And health reminders like getting up and moving or taking medication are more discreet on a wearable.

Seniors and people who are sedentary have worse health outcomes, and the “powerful and noninvasive” reminders can help track and encourage users, Rhew said.

But will seniors be willing to learn to use yet another new technology?

And, more importantly, will they be able to afford it?

Rhew said the goal is for both answers is to be yes.

“We can make something that people want to use. You can have the best technology, but if it sits on a shelf, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Nonutilization of great technology means no improvement in care.”

Ultimately, the technology can even affect hospital readmissions, which are high with seniors, and keep individuals out of hospice care and at home.

In addition to wearables, the idea of a smart home — including wirelessly connected sensors or remotely controlled devices — can make it much easier for family or caregivers to care for independently living seniors.

Samsung is working on technology that will track movement, and learn people’s routines, in order to send out alerts if something seems off. Also making things like security alarms, appliances and lights run on schedules can help ensure nothing gets forgotten for someone with memory issues, Rhew said.

“That is something we believe is a very powerful driver: wanting to live independently in an environment they choose. If we make it right, we can make the experience seamless,” he said. “Our belief is a smart home needs to be designed around the biggest cost issues in health care. Our goal is to test sensors to reduce readmission and reduce total cost of care. Identify ways to decrease adverse events for populations at high risk.”

That’s the economic value of smart homes, to prevent overutilization of emergency rooms and unnecessary readmissions for seniors, Rhew said.

Another area Samsung is moving into is pain management through virtual reality.

The sheer sensory power of virtual reality has captured the attention of a number of industries, including media and art, but it can be used to engage patients with chronic pain, Rhew said.

“The tools that we originally thought were just for entertainment or training or to distract someone from pain can actually have true therapeutic benefits,” he said.

When implemented in a controlled hospital setting, VR treatment can reduce pain by about 25 percent, and reduce stress and anxiety by 60 percent, according to some studies.

In addition, the effects can be felt long after the VR headset is taken off, at least two to as much as 48 hours after, Rhew said.

VR can also be deployed for use post-surgery or births, Rhew said.

“The clinical benefits are, in many cases, on par with medications like narcotics,” he said.

A relevant revelation in light of the ongoing opioid epidemic that has gripped the country.

“We feel like we are on to something here that people have known about, but within the past several years there has been an explosion in terms of researchers,” Rhew said, adding that it is due, in large part, to increasing affordability of technology and mobile solutions.

So how does the tech giant, which has been a major market competitor in the world of mobile phones, plan to scale up in health care?

By making sure to focus on cost and figuring out who is footing the bill — insurer or patient, Rhew said.

There are “some reimbursement models we can explore with payors (insurers),” he said.

The bottom line is there are many factors for the company to consider in order to head in the right direction, Rhew said.

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Anjalee Khemlani