FEATURE: Unlocking the potential of assistive technology


Assistive technology has demonstrated itself as a key facilitator of high quality care delivery, so why aren’t these solutions widely implemented across the home care sector? Home Care Insight asks industry suppliers about the key barriers to adoption and how their solutions have improved the lives of vulnerable adults, including older people and those with a learning disability, living at home.

A recent study of the social care sector by learning disability charity Hft found that the benefits of assistive technology are widely acknowledged, with 76% of providers in England stating that the use of technology leads to improved outcomes for the people they support.

However, while three quarters of care providers questioned in the 2019 Sector Pulse Check survey said that they use technology as part of their services, 81% admitted they are not using it to its full potential.

In response to this survey, HCI asked four top assistive technology suppliers about the main barriers to adoption and how care providers can overcome these challenges.

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ARMED’s wearable Polar Loop detects falls, allowing for early intervention.

What is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology includes supportive services and equipment, ranging from personal alarms to sophisticated sensors that track movement and environmental changes in the home that could reveal a health problem or incident, such as a fall.

Of the providers surveyed who use assistive technologies, the most common type to use is communication aids, which are adopted by 79% of these providers. This includes using hearing aids and smart phones to facilitate communication.

But telehealth, which involves using technology to enable healthcare professionals to remotely monitor data on certain aspects of a person’s health, such as oxygen levels in the blood, is the least used type of assistive technology, with just 11% of providers adopting this.

Meanwhile, telecare, which detects when there’s a problem in the home and alerts carers to an incident, is used by less than half (38%) of care providers in England.

Progress is being made, but the potential for assistive technology is nowhere near realised. Our goal is to fully unlock the potential of this relatively new and untapped market.”

With pressure building on A&E departments across the country, predicting and preventing the occurrence of accidents or trauma has been an aspiration within health and social care for many years.

But assistive technology suppliers say change is needed to ensure these good intentions can be turned into positive actions.

“Although the understanding of the potential for assistive technology is becoming more widespread, there is still some way to go,” says Gavin Bashar, managing director of Tunstall Healthcare UK, which integrates smart technology with monitoring and services to support home providers in ensuring their clients have a wide choice of care options.

“From managing risks to aiding communication and helping to deliver greater privacy, assistive technology can enable people to have more control over the way they live their lives.”

Tunstall Healthcare UK managing director Gavin Bashar.

Vayyar Imaging, a global specialist in 4D sensor technology, has recently developed Vayyar Home, a Radio Frequency (RF) monitoring system that scans an area of a person’s home for falls – through walls, behind furniture of other obstructions – and immediately alerts caregivers or emergency services.

Vayyar Home sensors also keep track of movement and patterns, and will notify carers of unusual activity, while keeping them up to date with real-time reporting of posture and position, activity or rest.

Malcom Berman, director of marketing at Vayyar Imaging, says: “Year over year we’ve seen immense technological advancements in response to increases in life expectancy and the scale of our senior population. Our goal is to fully unlock the potential of this relatively new and untapped market.

“Progress is being made, but the potential for this technology is nowhere near realised.”

We need to generate an understanding of how assistive technology can benefit everyone involved in the provision of home care.”

Helen Dempster, chief visionary officer at Karantis360, whose IoT sensors monitor movement, humidity and temperature across a home, enabling a care provider to rapidly gain a picture of an individuals’ day-to-day routine, agrees. She says the UK is slower than some countries in adopting assistive technology and realising its full potential.

“As we face a global shortage in healthcare workers, some countries are embracing technologies in their infancy in order to enhance their care levels. Japan, for example, has made ‘carebots’ prominent in its Shin-tomi nursing home and has committed to funding the development of more devices. Assistive technology has the ability to alleviate pressure on the whole social care eco-system and, most importantly, allow people to stay living in their own homes.

“Unfortunately, the UK is slower when it comes to the adoption of technology.”

Barriers to Adoption

So what are the main barriers to the adoption of assistive technologies, particularly those that monitor a person’s health and movement in order to prevent hospital visits?

The Hft survey, published in January, found that the cost of assistive technologies is the main barrier to using them, with 75% of social care providers saying they couldn’t fund them. Furthermore, 71% of care providers said that local authorities are unwilling to fund them.

And research by ARMED (Advance Risk Modelling for Early Detection) backs up these findings.

“We asked a group of health and social care professionals what they believed were the main barriers in adopting prevention technology. The overwhelming response was a shortfall of financial budgets and a lack of vision,” says ARMED director Brian Brown.

Armed director Brian Brown.

Launched in 2017, ARMED was developed by HAS Technology in partnership with Edinburgh Napier University. The company uses key health metrics alongside wearable device data to identify individuals who are at increasing risk of falling prior to an adverse event occurring.

Tunstall Healthcare agrees with ARMED that many home care providers have limited resources and budget to invest in solutions such as assistive technology.

“Individual care packages and person-centred solutions are often perceived as costly, and the benefits are often not understood or seen as outweighing the cost of investment,” says Bashar.

“Therefore, organisations and local authorities often reduce the amount they spend, so care providers who drive down the cost of support while maintaining high standards are often penalised for their efforts.”

A lack of awareness of assistive technology is also considered a barrier to adoption, as even organisations who do have the budget to purchase assistive technology still need to invest time in understanding what would work best for the people they support.

Unfortunately, the UK is slower when it comes to the adoption of technology and the problem is change.”

More than half (59%) of care providers responding to the Hft survey said this was the main barrier to using assistive technology. Many staff are also unsure how to use new technologies, which dissuades organisations from purchasing new equipment, as they fear that it will not be used by staff.

“A lack of understanding often hinders the adoption of assistive technology in home care,” says Bashar. “Many providers don’t realise that assistive technology is person-centred and designed to meet the needs of individuals, often dramatically improving the quality of their life. The range of products and services available is also often unknown, leading care providers to bypass assistive tech solutions as they may not understand that there are products to meet every care requirement.”

Brown from ARMED adds that other barriers include a lack of resources and digital skills to support the change management required, and insufficient education within a culture that is focussed on responding rather than preventing.

“Interestingly, there is also a lack of knowledge and awareness by senior managers to see the benefits of ‘invest to save’ in these types of technologies,” he says.

The Smart Hub is Tunstall Healthcare UK’s first ‘connected care’ home unit with monitoring and alarm features.

Overcoming the Challenges

So how can home care providers overcome these major challenges? Dempster believes care providers need to utilise the resources that are available to them by actively researching what’s on offer, and then apply for funding or grants.

“Presenting the option of self-funding to families is another realistic option as often and where possible, the benefits of deploying assistive technology outweigh the cost,” she adds.

Bashar says care providers can overcome barriers to adoption by investigating the benefits of investing in assistive technology.

Karantis360 chief visionary officer Helen Dempster.

“From freeing up the time of carers, to ensuring an alarm is raised immediately in the event of an emergency, we need to generate an understanding of how assistive technology can benefit everyone involved in the provision of home care,” he says.

“Assistive technology can often significantly reduce the cost of social care provision, so it is our duty to work with providers to educate them in the financial benefits. As more home care providers understand that they will save money in the long run, the lives of vulnerable adults will continue to be changed for the better.”

Bashar says providers should also consult with local organisations to understand how the government is working to ensure the safeguarding of the social care industry, and the part that assistive technology has to play in enabling this.

Berman from Vayyar believes education will play a key role in building the reputation of assistive technology and helping seniors understand the potential for significant quality-of-life improvements.

“On the provider side, making affordable solutions available to clients would go a long way in assuaging concerns over price and burden,” he adds.

Brown, meanwhile, says a change in culture is needed – one that shifts from the more traditional reactive delivery of care to a preventative model that fully complements technology and human expertise.

“Lack of integration between health and social care is a huge barrier, and once this is broken down the rewards for citizens, their families and healthcare professionals will be plentiful,” he says.

With the recent pledges for funding support for care providers, from local government, we hope to see more resources and support for the social care sector to access and implement the right type of technology for them and their customers.

Individual care packages and person-centred solutions are often perceived as costly, and the benefits are often not understood or seen as outweighing the cost of investment.”

The Future of Assistive Technology

Going forward, home care suppliers believe that assistive technology can only continue to evolve as AI machine learning becomes more refined.

“Currently, the range of solutions that are benefiting the health and social care sector include wearables, sensors, remote monitoring devices, portals and apps,” says Brown.

“New technology, such as Bluetooth water bottles and sweat monitoring watches, continue to be tested and introduced to the market, and they will all potentially have the ability to allow risks to be managed and issues to be identified before problems occur.”

Berman agrees, adding: “We see the field moving towards more age-in-place technology, greater integration of AI and machine learning, and discrete solutions that don’t impede on the dignity of their users. Solutions will be made more compact, with a focus on design that provides optimal safety while seamlessly integrating systems into seniors’ lives.”

At Tunstall, engineers are continuing to develop innovative software, hardware and wirelessly-connected services to enable new delivery models to transform health and social care provision, and keep up with the growing demand due to the ageing population.

“Over the next five years, we’ll see assistive technology become increasingly centred around population management; looking at integration and person-centred care at scale to increase efficiency, the overall provision of care, and improve user experience,” Bashar explains.

Tunstall’s MyAmie allows users to call for help at the touch of a button.

He says that in the UK, the 2025 digital switchover will impact the solutions and services that can be delivered.

“Digital networks are ‘always on’ so care providers can access vital information 24/7. Always-on data sharing is fundamental in enabling preventative care and allowing care provision to become more proactive and integrated. As the digital transition progresses, assistive technology will become increasingly integrated and costs will dramatically reduce,” Bashar adds.

Dempster says the future of assistive technology will provide a better and more timely understanding of clients’ needs and provide more touch time between the client and the carer.

“Improving the quality of the human-human interaction will fulfil both the carer and the VIPs mental and physical health,” she explains.

The chief visionary officer also believes that the use of smart home technology is rising, and with this comes wider levels of acceptance.

“The changing attitudes towards devices such as the Amazon Alexa are enabling these technologies to be used in all different sorts of ways. One council even recently started to use Alexa as a way of reducing the levels of isolation felt by its elderly constituents,” she says.

“As people start to live more regularly with these devices and consider technology more friend than foe, they are becoming more accepting of adopting other devices, but it should not be a substitute for removing the human element. Carers will never be replaced by technology, but the smart home approach to social care could help them to better answer the ever increasing cries for help.”

The changing attitudes towards devices such as the Amazon Alexa are enabling these technologies to be used in all different sorts of ways.”

Bashar agrees, adding: “The concept of ‘smart homes’ is becoming an accepted reality, with technology such as smart speakers and smart boilers becoming commonplace. We’re also seeing technology adoption evolve quite rapidly, with the so called ‘silver generation’ (55 – 70 age group) becoming more tech savvy and open to adopting technologies to help their daily living needs.

“There is huge potential for homes to begin harnessing assistive care solutions as the latest generation of technology can not only respond to issues such as fires, but increase contact with friends and family, provide access to online services and increase communication between care providers and their clients.”

ARMED’s wearable technology was initially adopted by the housing association market where it delivered impressive results that can be replicated in home care settings.

After just six months of implementing ARMED at Loreburn Housing Association, the control group experienced no falls during that time whilst the comparison group had 59 falls.

ARMED also identified one client who had a decreased heart rate at a similar time each day. This information was relayed to their GP and following examination, the issue was treated with medication before it could develop into something more serious.

Tags : assistive technologyKarantis360Tunstall Healthcare
Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke

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