Home Health Care Agency Explores Use of Robots to Augment Care

For years, Tim Leddy, CEO of Visiting Nurse Services (VNS) in Westchester, had been considering doing something a bit radical to address the shortage of home health aides he and other home healthcare agencies were experiencing. He wanted to research and pilot a home care robot program, and ultimately deploy a fleet of robots to complement the work of home health aides.

Leddy and his team saw this as a potential way to provide care to additional people as well as provide more total hours of care for patients. They also believed a home care robot program could reduce rehospitalizations resulting from patients forgetting to take medications and reduce rates of isolation and depression among home-bound older adults.

With funding from Next50, Leddy’s team researched available options. While they discovered that few robots had been adapted especially for home care, they were able to identify and select a “social robot” to pilot with a small number of patients. The robot, ElliQ, reminds patients to take medications, provides social interaction, guides patients through breathing or chair yoga exercises, and even tells an occasional joke. They hope to work with technology companies in the future to customize robots to do other tasks more specific to home care.

“Our goal is to help people feel more independent,” said Leddy. “We have 14 of [the robots] out and now the fun stuff comes—the data collection.” The team will analyze how much patients interact with the robot as well as whether goals related to reduced hospitalizations and improved mental health are being achieved.

Flexible funds from Next50 gave VNS Westchester the independence they needed to experiment with a unique way of providing care to older adults. “I’m excited,” said Leddy, referencing other organizations he’s talked to who are also exploring this option. “Next50 Initiative opened doors for us, expanding our network. We’ve made lots of connections.”

In response to a shortage of home care aides, VNS Westchester is piloting use of ElliQ, a companion robot that supplements the work of home health aides. ElliQ reminds patients to take medications, guides them through simple physical exercises, and provides companionship. Photo: Intuition Robotics.