• Technology for Older People

    Friday, May 23, 2014

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HJCL recently attended a 2020health discussion on how the UK can ensure that the older population, increasingly living in isolation, can better access the wide range of technologies on offer, which are fair in price, and help them in their day to day lives to improve social, physical and mental wellbeing.

Summary of the day

The session was chaired by John Pugh MP, MP for Southport and current chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Telehealth. Overall the seminar was a positive one with regard older people accessing and using technology. The main message was that the biggest barrier in the uptake of technology wasn’t a cultural one but more a prejudice and fear of medical practitioners and “information governance”.

The chair, John Pugh MP, observed that technology sometimes had unsuspected benefits in healthcare provision, outlining the often overlooked fact that, in psychiatric care, patients often prefer to interact with a piece of software, rather than a human doctor.

Neil Pearson from Microsoft started the discussion by making the obvious point that the technology, which older people could be using in the NHS is already apparent and widespread in general society through smart phones and e-readers. These technologies, he believed, could easily be integrated into the NHS. He went onto state that information governance is the “single biggest barrier” to the uptake of such technologies and the lack of impetus by medical practitioners to implement them. Ultimately, Mr. Pearson believed that current technology could be integrated into the NHS for improved care outcomes for older people, all that had to happen was simply remove the barriers for their uptake.

Phil O’Connell of Staffordshire and Lancashire Commissioning Support Unit went onto outline what he and staff have done to deliver better health outcomes for patients. He stated that if a “patient can use a TV remote control, they can use mobile technology for their healthcare”, and said that is what he had helped implement in using patient’s mobile phones. He went onto say that for those patients that cannot use such phones in their current form, there are solutions with larger buttons and the use of interactive electronic applications. O’Connell, like Pearson, refuted the idea that older people do not like or understand technology, in his experience they love using telehealth solutions but it’s medical practitioners fears and prejudices that are denying older patients this choice in their health treatment(s).

This view that older people were not the barrier to technology was echoed by the third speaker, Professor Arlene Astell from Sheffield University, but said that “we shouldn’t impose technology on older people”, in that it shouldn’t be seen as an affliction. In her view, decision making, with regard to somebody’s health, didn’t suddenly stop at a certain age with regard the use of technology. Older people use technology, and thus telehealth solutions, like anyone else, their use wouldn’t be a “strange concept”. Professor Astell argued that technology should be made much more available and used at a far greater extent than currently within the NHS.

The last speaker of the session, John Cruickshank, an IT and telehealth expert, discussed what other international providers, such as America, are doing in this area. In Cruickshank’s opinion, there remain perverse incentives for the NHS in the allocation of funding, in that the NHS gets more money for keeping you in hospital. He said this had to change to facilitate the take up of more telehealth solutions to avoid patients having to enter a hospital. Although, like the other speakers, Cruickshank believed older people were not afraid to use technology there was still a cultural element that had to be addressed, in that certain studies show that many over 75s won’t pay for internet access. This is an issue that remained challenging for those that wished to implement greater technology uptake for older people, and had to be overcome.

When the session was opened up to Q&A there was many comments over how positive the speakers were over the issue of older people using technology. The majority of questions asked for further details of the case studies that were outlined by Phil O’Connell and Professor Astell. One question that was asked of Mr Cruickshank was over the Government’s push for greater technology within the NHS. He replied that the Government had done a lot of work in this area and had tried to encourage greater technology uptake within the NHS, but hadn’t got very far. He made the further point that the NHS reforms had delayed the implementation of further telehealth solutions as medical professionals focused on delivering services rather than delivering innovation.

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