Independence through technology – how far have we come?

Published on the blog of the British Geriatrics Society
Mark S. Hawley is Professor of Health Services Research, University of Sheffield. Stuart G. Parker is Wm Leech Professor of Geriatric Medicine, Newcastle University.

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Telecare and telehealth are being championed as important components in the response to the needs of an ageing population. What happens when you ‘open the black box’ and take a look inside? A review of a large scale piece of research suggests the answer might not be as clear cut as we might like.

The proposition is an attractive one – make use of information and communication technologies to improve the monitoring and management of long-term health conditions (telehealth) and to enable independent living for an increasingly older population (telecare). If business and government can improve their efficiency and effectiveness with the appropriate application of these technologies, surely health and social care could benefit, too? Recent initiatives like the Preventative Technology Grant and the 3 million lives project are a testament to the government’s belief that telehealth and telecare can indeed support self-help in the home as a desirable alternative to hospital and care-home admissions.

Is this a well-founded belief? A telehealth trial involving 3200 individuals with long-term health conditions would seem like a good place to start. Back this up with a parallel telecare trial involving a further 2600 with social care needs and you might be feeling confident that firm conclusions could be drawn.

This is an important and promising area where significant progress could make a real difference to millions of people. Large-scale, well-conducted research of this sort is necessary and very welcome, but, in this case, both the results and the questions being asked bear closer scrutiny.

Read more in our article ‘Telecare for an ageing population?’ published in the latest edition of Age and Ageing.

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