Telecare and telemedicine services are increasingly being seen as a potential solution to one of society’s most pressing healthcare issues, that of long-term care of elderly or vulnerable people. BT’s broadband telecare proposition is simple and compelling: it can help support continued secure and independent living whilst preserving quality of life at a reduced cost of care to individuals and society. To achieve this BT has been looking at ways of using broadband to improve the delivery of healthcare services.
One project involves placing a number of unobtrusive wireless sensors in key locations throughout the home, such as the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room. These sensors monitor movement within the home, room temperature, chair occupancy, use of certain facilities and the status of external doors and windows. The sensors communicate with an intelligent 'in-home' unit that processes the information and alerts the person in the home if there is a cause for concern, should no response be received the system then sends an alarm to a call centre. This technology enables older people to feel safer in the knowledge that help is close at hand.
Caroline Waters, director of people networks, BT Group, said: “Broadband has great potential in the healthcare sector; with sensory devices around the home able to collect continuous and comprehensive data on the well being of an individual, the telecare approach won’t just be a passive monitor, by recognising the living patterns of 'at risk' people it will enable preventative care.
“Far from seeking to control people's lives technology enriches life by letting individuals live as independently as possible. Commercially, broadband has huge potential for healthcare companies, which is why, as a leading-edge communications technology business, BT is at the forefront of researching, developing and assessing exactly where new technology is taking us."
One of the aims of this work is to assist human carers to deliver care to where it is most required and at the most appropriate time. An example of this is an initiative between BT and Glasgow City Council to give its home-care rapid-response teams access to emails on the move, saving time and increasing the number of daily homecare visits that they make. This has been made possible by giving them all a Blackberry mobile email device.
Other projects include using broadband to help disabled teenagers conduct video telephony calls between friends and support workers in order to create a virtual meeting place for people who spend a large proportion of their day alone. Through the connection, they have the option to take on the identity of a cartoon character, and to communicate through a speech bubble, which is particularly useful to participants with speech difficulties. The system also provides a facility for home shopping via a connection to a local supermarket.
BT is also working with iMetrikus, a US-based healthcare technology company to look at the benefits of broadband connections between those monitoring a chronic condition and the health professionals who care for them. The company’s MediCompass system is used in monitoring diabetes, asthma, pulmonary disease, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and HIV/AIDS. MediCompass system employs the highest standards for health care related Web sites as accredited by URAC (Utilization Review Accreditation Commission) and for privacy and security as accredited by HON (Health on the Net Foundation).
Matt Sanders, chief executive of Carlsbad, Californiabased iMetrikus Inc., said: “Combining our expertise in patient and caregiver connectivity and remote patient monitoring with BT’s commitment to optimise individual health status through the application of broadband technology, we believe provides a wholly unique approach to address the chronic-care challenge.
"We deploy real state-of-the-art technology aimed at helping, supporting and improving the quality of life for individuals who suffer from a range of illnesses. But what we don't want to do is make them feel as if they're under attack from technology. Our health monitoring systems are aimed at giving people peace of mind."
Paul Garner, director of BT’s care in the community virtual research centre at BT Exact, BT's research, technology and IT operations businesses, said: “With the wider adoption of broadband we will have more chance of solving a number of problems that result from poor health and an ageing society. We're moving towards a future where we will have hundreds of devices around our homes or other environments, which are able to sense things, or carry out computational processing and also communicate with other devices. This could have a huge impact on health issues and independent living so we will continue to undertake extensive research and trials to assess how communications technology will benefit the health and telecare sectors."
Many of the benefits that broadband has for people from all communities and from all walks of life are being showcased at BT’s Agile Business: Connected Lives conference, being held at BT Centre from 10-13 May 2004. The conference aims to demonstrate that broadband is an inclusive technology that brings enormous benefit to people from many diverse backgrounds.