Close up of home owner checking energy consumption on smart meter home technology. She can see her energy consumption and billing all in one place and live costs. Graphics have been altered.

    How a smart meter could save your life

    18 July 2018

    As we get older it becomes easier to neglect our health. As we age we increasingly fail to notice the small changes in our lives that can indicate a more serious condition further down the line. But what if our energy use could help us spot these changes and diagnose issues earlier?

    Every few seconds, households in the UK share data with their energy supplier, showing spikes in energy use. With the rise of smart meters, we are now able to track this usage down to an individual device, and the data, if read the right way, is able to tell us (for example) the last time the kettle was boiled. This wealth of information is already being gathered by the likes of EDF and British Gas but it can be utilised to tell us so much more about our health.

    Our energy use can easily draw a picture of our daily routine, from the time we get up to when we cook in the evening, and this insight can be critical in identifying subtle changes to our routine. As we get older, changes in our behaviour tends to be gradual and difficult to spot, but by accessing data which is already being taken, we can track these changes in an unobtrusive way.

    With 3.5 million people living alone aged over 65, there is a much higher risk of gradual changes going unnoticed, with the first sign of an issue often only coming to light after something drastic happens, such as a fall.

    Monitoring systems can learn routines over time, and start to distinguish when changes are one offs or a reoccurring issue. While they cannot identify specific health issues, the information can be utilised by health professionals to help them come to a diagnosis more quickly. Signals such as getting up later, using devices in the night, or kitchen appliances going un-used, can help raise red flags before a situation becomes serious.

    These monitoring systems will alert the individual of the changes and encourage them to have further conversations with their family and health team, rather than simply dismissing them as ‘old age’.

    Conditions which could be identified by these signals include arthritis, and the early stages of dementia and insomnia.

    For prioritised cases we also have the option of maximising this data by adding more data points and bringing in other technology. Conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which effects nearly two per cent of the population, can be better monitored by combining the data with additional sensors and advanced medtech. Interactive weighing scales can help identify a decline in certain heart conditions while home blood oxygen measurements can help those living with COPD to stay independent.

    By giving individuals ownership of their data, they can become better informed about their health, and even use it to aid conversations with doctors and other health professionals. Rather than visiting a doctor and trying to describe the history of the presenting condition, individuals can take their data, from over a period of time, to demonstrate how long it has been going on for. This saves time and resource for both the doctor and the patient.

    With these advancements, it is important to remember that technology is still not designed to replace doctors and trained health professionals and should rather be used to encourage people to have open conversations about their health, especially as they get older. Early intervention for the vulnerable who are otherwise healthy and active through unobtrusive steps is a great way to prevent bigger issues emerging and helps to free up the already strained NHS.

    Louise Rogerson is the COO of Howz, the home monitoring system that keeps families up to date with the wellbeing of elderly relatives, alongside being a chartered physiotherapist with 18 years’ experience of working in the NHS in clinical, operational and commissioning roles