This blog was first published on the Independent Age website
When we think of care, we naturally think of the important contributions of our friends, partners and family as well doctors, nurses, social workers and home care workers who diagnose, treat, support us and provide comfort during difficult periods in our lives.
Yet technology has always played an important part in supporting us from our early years onwards.
From functional and user-friendly devices to home modifications, from modern smart appliances to internet communications and connected homes – they can all make our lives easier.
Devices and apps can help us communicate and seek urgent help, as well as improve our fitness and keep us healthy.
We often now take it for granted that we can call, text or chat at the swipe of a hand-held screen – a lifestyle revolution that has taken place over the last ten years.
We have access to more information than ever before that could help us live healthy and connected lives.
Of course, sometimes we need extra help – living alone with a disability, coping with diabetes or a heart or respiratory condition – we have the possibilities to connect directly to people who can advise, help and support us.
We have opportunities now with personalised technology enabled care and digital health that we have never had in the past as we focus more in the digital home where we can make connected care and connected communities a reality.
Think for a moment that people born today may not need a driving licence and may not have to learn to use the traditional keyboard that has excluded many people from the digital world.
Electric, self-driving cars are being tested in our cities and voice operable devices are now common in many UK homes.
The mobile phone has become a multi-faceted communications device which can help us manage our diaries, reminders, alerts, home equipment and much more if we wish to have it as part of our lifestyles.
Sensors can monitor everything from our heart rhythms to our home security and connect them to remote monitoring as well as joined up health and care record systems.
Technology is becoming more intelligent by learning from its environment and data from other users.
Technology will inevitably replace many jobs that depend on knowledge and expertise as we move towards 2025 and beyond.
We can expect to see more robotic devices in our homes as well as in our offices and industry.
In some areas of medicine, advanced computer systems are already better than the human experts at diagnosis.
Yet, there will still be a vital role for personal contact – people who have a caring role in our personal networks.
People who will provide empathy and undertake complex tasks to support our physical and mental wellbeing will be even more in demand than they are now.
Using technology is, if course, very personal – for some people it will not fit their lifestyles and aspirations – so we need to offer a range of care options and choices.
However, if we harness the technology and make it personal to us and safe to use, we have the potential to maintain our health and wellbeing as well as keep in contact with people that can add value to our lives.
Taking personal responsibility could help free off the time of key health and care professionals to provide the important personal touch to those who need it most, particularly when we know staff are under considerable pressure.
A rapid response to a home emergency, the ability to order care on demand via an app or video link with a doctor are all available now.
We can learn from other countries as well as our own to ensure that technology enabled care meets our needs, expectations and high quality and safety standards.
Yet, whilst consumer technology is moving at a rapid pace, it can take fifteen or more years on average for healthcare organisations to accept innovative approaches.
We still have 1990’s computer systems and fax machines in our health and care organisations.
We may wait days or even weeks to see a doctor in person, yet telephone and video consultations are still rare.
High levels of evidence are expected to ensure systems are safe, secure and cost-effective – this is important, but can also act as a barrier.
But when we see developing countries moving quickly into digital and mobile health, we have to ask ourselves why adoption of cost-effective solutions is often slow in the UK.
Our UK telephone systems will become fully digital in the next few years using internet protocols – our health, housing and care commissioners will need to move quickly to ensure that they are up to date with the changing infrastructure.
This will be an opportunity to accelerate the adoption of technology that works for a wider population at the same time as transforming out-of-date services.
The future options include more preventative and proactive approaches rather than always responding to emergencies and crises.
It will mean investing in trusted providers and new workforce skills that balance user needs and expectations within the digital, connected home.
At TSA, our President, Paul Burstow, has been helping us work towards a fully digital future.
Our Conference last year (‘Connected Care, Connected Homes, Connected Communities’) saw the publication of a White Paper on ‘Putting People First’ – ensuring that future systems were co-designed with users and that technology is recognised as an important ‘enabler’.
It also identified that digital leaders needed to work together to ensure that programmes are cost-effective and continue to put people first.
Our International Conference this year will further develop this ‘Putting People First’ approach for technology enabled care and digital health.
So, let us try and set out together a vision for ‘2020 and beyond’ that uses technology as an enabler to help improve our quality of life, keep us independent, healthy fit and well.
As we move into 2020 and beyond, personalised technology enabled care and transformed support services will: