Dr Chris Mimnagh: Telecare should build on technology we already use

In the week that Apple announced atrial fibrillation monitoring would be coming to the Apple Watch, I also attended an event on digital innovations in technology-enabled care.

What I saw in the marketplace was chilling. Lots of little bits of kit, offered by small providers, for purchase by or to be issued to people in need of support at home. 

Granted it’s part of an evolution, described by one speaker as a metamorphosis - we are undoubtedly in the soup of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.

However, I'm concerned that the current ‘buy a box’ mentality is underpinned by the belief that the box is an opportunity to connect care receivers and care givers. I'm concerned that this approach to ‘distance care’ does not empower citizens to care for themselves or their families.

Talk of ‘embedding’ telecare into homes raises hackles for me. The evolution of intelligent devices is not the sole domain of healthcare. It's far more likely that personal purchases that are then adopted as devices to assist monitoring will be a more sustainable solution than the ‘buy a red box and call someone’ solutions.

Artificial intelligence, which contacts a person’s home and interrogates the everyday devices, some augmented with sensors, some using their inbuilt sensors, will offer platform-independent solutions that can then use the individual’s personal networks of support (family, friends, social groups) to intervene. 

The solution to independent living is to use personally-chosen, regularly-used devices that have perhaps been present in the home for a number of years and enable them to connect constantly to a wider network of support. This needs to be combined alongside an intelligent proactive system of support and enquiry, either AI or human in its approach.

Ideally we need to grow telecare from individuals’ personal life choices, building on the way we use our tech as adults. We can then augment this with care-oriented apps and devices as needed, rather than offering our solutions to your problem.

  • Dr Chris Mimnagh is a GP in Liverpool and head of clinical innovation liaison and deployment at The Innovation Agency, the academic health science network for the north-west coast.

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