Going digital: the real value of health and social care tech
Digital Health Digital technology can help ease the care crisis and give the elderly a better quality of life, says Dr Lisa Smith, CEO of digital homecare provider, Kraydel.
Why is digital technology so important in the health and social care sector?
Because two million people over the age of 75 are living alone, and the vast majority of them are socially isolated. That's a terrible state-of-affairs which needs to end. So the bit I'm excited about is the idea of real-time technology that enables person-to-person connection for those who can no longer get out of their homes easily, or whose families are far away. This kind of technology — which we are developing — enables independent living, builds communities, addresses people's loneliness, empowers them and gives them a purpose.
Is a digital revolution taking place within the sector?
Yes, and it's happening because technology can do some amazing things. For example, there's a crisis in care provision because it is crazily expensive and complex. There aren't enough nursing homes, and hospitals are overwhelmed. It's here that technology can play an important role. Imagine a virtual nurse or doctor appearing in the living room of someone who needs care to remind them to, for example, take their morning medicine. One care provider could support a lot of people that way. It doesn't require driving to see a patient three times a day: once could be enough. That means the carer has more quality time to spend when they do make in-person visits. Technology can free up resources so that people are able to have meaningful interactions. It can help deliver care in a way that encourages wellness and health.
What's the main consideration when designing technology for the elderly?
The technology has to be really simple. That's not meant to sound patronising, but we have to remove barriers so people of that generation who aren't used to technology can use it effectively. We get great feedback from the elders who use our technology. Recently we held a focus group to get information about remote controls. They said they didn't want devices that are small, sleek and black. They wanted something big that is easy to find and a few buttons that are big enough to see and be depressed by an elbow or knuckle, and that are textured and brightly coloured. In the world of pervasive technology you need to recognise that less is more, and ease of use of key.
Are ease of use problems always the fault of the design, though — or the user?
An ease of use problem is nearly always the result of a mismatch between the thinking of the designer and that of the user. As a tech-savvy generation we have assimilated conventions around how things work – and it’s an effort to remember that many of them are actually arbitrary. We had a recent example of this: if you have a menu on the screen and an item is highlighted, do you press the up button or the down button to get to the entry below? Most of us would press the down button because we’re mentally moving the highlight bar. In our focus group, however, a couple of ladies pressed the up button, instead trying to move the menu itself to position the item inside the highlight! They are not wrong - it just shows you that conventions are tricky … and we assume too often that they are known.
This is one reason why we’re rejecting all scrolling and pointing conventions. Each menu item has an icon with a unique colour and shape beside it, and the remote control has buttons with those same icons. Simple to use – the wizadry is hidden.
What challenges are currently being faced in the sector with regards Technology Enabled Care?
The value of technology is often split among different stakeholders, so when you bring tech to market, there's always a question of how to cover costs. In other words, if you develop an item of healthcare tech, you can't charge one quarter to the family of the person who needs care, one third to the local council, one tenth to a GP and the remainder to the local hospital. What's exciting now is that councils and commissioning groups are working together to consolidate social care budgets.
What kinds of tech innovations do you think we will see in health and social care in the future?
We're already looking at voice control to further remove barriers to adoption, and Artificial Intelligence to make clever inferences about wellbeing. The new wave of technology known as the “Internet of Things” is making our environments friendlier and easy to interact with. For example, our houses will know what the temperature should be so that it's warm when we come home, and our devices will contact the pharmacist for repeat prescriptions when we are running low on medicine. I'm very optimistic that technology will be a real enabler in terms of helping everyone manage their health better. The stuff we can currently imagine will probably look very simple compared to the tech that actually comes along.