New Technology Helps Find Wandering Patients

EmFinders, a Texas company, has designed an electronic monitoring system that can locate within minutes demented patients who have wandered away, or eloped, from nursing homes and assisted living facilities.  The tracking system consists of radio transmitters that look like bracelets or watchbands and fit on the wrists or around the ankles of the elderly.  When a patient is identified as missing, staff can remotely activate the transmitter, 911 dispatchers are notified, the patient's location is pinpointed using cellular networks, and rescuers are guided to that location.   Read more about the electronic tracking system.

The EmFinder's tracking device is intriguing.  It's fast.  A demonstration of the device determined a person's location to within 15 feet after about 10 seconds.  Fast is good because time is of the essence.  According to the article, if a missing dementia patient isn't found within 24 hours, the patient runs a 50% chance of serious injury or death.  The tracking device also seems to be reasonably priced.  The company plans to charge about $100 for the device and $10-15 per month for monthly monitoring support.  The device is also fairly unobtrusive because it fits around the wrist or ankle, much as do Wanderguard and Code Alert wandering (elopement) alarm devices that notify staff before a patient actually gets out of the facility.

New technology is great, but gadgets alone don't prevent injuries and death to missing patients.  More often than not, technology can only supplement good nursing care.  For example, finding a missing patient with a GPS tracking system is great, but it first requires staff to recognize the patient is missing.  It doesn't matter how fast you can pinpoint the patient's location if staff is too busy to realize the patient is gone in the first place.  When too much time passes, technology will just help find the body.  

These devices also rely on staff support for fit and maintenance.  If staff is not careful to fit the devices properly, the patients can remove them or they may fall off.  If the nursing home or assisted living facility does not have a preventative maintenance program, no one will know the batteries need replacing until it's too late.  The bottom line?  These devices and the techology they represent will only be as good as the staff that uses them.
Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia. 

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