Hosted by dallas (delivering assisted living lifestyles at scale) and The King’s Fund, Self-Care in the Digital Age, an event held at the end of June, brought together healthcare professionals and digital health innovators to discuss self-care and the future of digital innovation/integration.

The dallas programme, developed by the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board and joint funded by the National Institute for Health Research and the Scottish Government, tasked four groups with running a huge scale innovation programme and testing it in their communities throughout the UK.

The four groups funded by dallas

Year Zero – a group dedicated to developing personal health records for everyone and creating a suite of health and care planning tools for people with long term health conditions.
Living it Up – supports better health, well-being and active lifestyles in Scotland and creating personalised health care experiences while keeping people connected.
Mi (More Independent) – helping people in Liverpool to live more independent lifestyles using technology.
i-focus – supporting the other three groups with interoperability and best practice while also integrating home sensor technologies into older people’s homes to notify their relatives or friends if, for example, the temperature in the house gets too low, or if an appliance that would normally be used regularly (such as a kettle) doesn’t appear to have been used. It would also send messages to the friends and family to let them know that their loved one is up and about and alright.

These groups also had the opportunity to talk about their work and any teething problems they’ve had in the development process. The biggest challenge that Mi was faced with from their ‘consumers’ was that they were more concerned with safety and security than with their own health. Meanwhile, Living it Up have created community driven content, and have developed a platform with information that is important to them, not what an individual has decided is important to them, while Year Zero has brought together experts from media, technology, design and healthcare to develop person-centred tools.

The conference

The format of the conference involved the assembled group of healthcare professionals and key opinion leaders being asked questions relating to self-care and digital technologies to generate a debate, talk about their success stories (or hindrances), ask questions of other members of the group and find out what work is already being done in the field. But not before watching this.

What they all found (including members of the audience) was that one of the barriers of self-care is that the general public sometimes think that tech is impersonal, they also find the lack of human interaction disconcerting and also that 17% of people don’t use technology because they’re scared of it but they don’t want to learn how to use it either. Perhaps the people who would benefit most from this kind of technology are the ones more resistant to it. The key thing to remember is that people buy outcomes not technology, so in order for it to work, they have to understand how it will help them and, in turn, the developers of this tech and apps must also understand the needs of an individual, not just create a sparkly piece of tech.

Going back to the video of Terry, the overriding theme or question of the event was why wait until 2034 for technology to be used in self-care? Why can’t it be used now? In many cases a lot of local authorities and NHS trusts are already experimenting with developments like these, mostly with great success. But it did lead me to question how ready the ‘current’ older generation are for technology like this, when you think of the current age of uptake of digital devices and apps and health trackers, they are probably the future ‘Terrys’. Another concern expressed was what happens to the data, and who reviews the health data filters it and adds it to a patients notes, wouldn’t this drive costs up? The answer is to build it into the resource. By integrating it early on it will become a standard rather than an add on.

Design your old age

Right now we are being given the opportunity to redesign old age; maybe we won’t be so reliant on nursing homes and hospitals, because the older generation will have greater independence by making technology work for them.  Maybe being so connected will mean that people don’t wait weeks for a doctor’s appointment, but they get the diagnosis they need in a day and get treatment faster, meaning their condition doesn’t get worse. It’s important to remember that there are a growing number of individuals who have decided not to have children, so for this childless generation, who is going to take care of them? Being able to self-care is going to be vital in the future, otherwise they will be incredibly dependent on care banks that are over stretched even now.

The tech is already beginning to appear; for example, Cue is a device that essentially brings a hospital lab into your home, but takes up only 3 x 3 inches of space. Using a swab to collect a sample, the user puts this into a specific cartridge and into a machine, which then relays the information to your mobile phone.  The further future plan is that information (such as flu, as an example) is then easy to send on to your doctor, who can review the information and get a prescription ready for collection all at a few touches of a button. At the moment they only offer test cartridges for flu, inflammation, testosterone, fertility and vitamin D, but the plan is to have a much larger suite of tests available in the future.

A lot of the negative comments arose from the price of development and implementation; however, cost effectiveness of apps is one thing, but it left me questioning why can some trusts create apps and others not? Why is there no standardisation, or examples of trusts working together to save money and draw on larger scale data collection to improve services? Although perhaps before data management is tackled in apps and self-care, surely the ability to transfer patient records efficiently should be top of agenda?

At the end of the conference we were asked ‘What are you going to do differently?’ The conference made me think a lot about what I could do to help expedite the process, improving self-care for future generations. I know in my heart our current older population will never fully embrace technology (not all of them, anyway), So surely rather than putting in ‘place holders’ for those who will never use the technology we already have, we develop what is already available and fulfil ideas so they reach their full potential, so people like ‘Terry’ have a far more user friendly, user driven and practical—not gimmicky—old age.

If you want to watch a video of the conference, click here.