Friday, 1 November 2013

Health2Dublin: Can technology increase well-being among older people?

After spending a year in France, it’s been great to return to Ireland and find a significant increase in interest in the health tech space. Over the last year, several initiatives in healthcare innovation research have been announced and partnerships between academic centres and enterprises of all shapes and sizes have multiplied. But I was particularly surprised by the community of healthcare innovators that is rapidly growing around here. Health2Dublin is one of these communities.

Health2Dublin is the Dublin chapter of Health 2.0, an international movement known for facilitating and creating worldwide events that promote and demonstrate how information technology can transform healthcare practice. By putting the leaders of the healthcare innovation scene together in one place they are hoping to create the future of healthcare.

Last week I attended my first Health2Dublin meetup, the topic of the evening was "Technology for Healthy Living". I was interested to see whether the 50 or so attendees, many of whom have background in technology, were also thinking about how technology can support older people and their caregivers to live longer, healthier and happier lives. Here is what I found.

Dr John Dinsmore (Trinity College Dublin) opened the evening with a key note talk about how to use technology to manage and promote health. There was a long discussion about the potential role of assistive technologies in increasing well-being among older people who suffer from chronic conditions or disabilities, but the key message for me was the acknowledgement that well-being is a subject concept, and therefore has different meanings for different people.

I know this should sound obvious, but it is not. As healthcare professionals, carers, family members, technology developers, we are constantly thinking about what would be good for our older clients or relatives, based on our own sense of well-being. Dr Dinsmore urged healthcare innovators to engage deeply with their consumers before technology development stage, in order to fully understand their needs, wants and technology literacy levels, instead of making a bunch of assumptions about “how they think older people are like”.  In Dr Dinsmore words “we must understand that it’s not about cool technology; it’s about changing the user experience”. And in order to do that, you must know your user first.

The discussion continued through a panel discussion formed by Liam Ryan (Get Health), Dr Robert Grant (GetHealth) and Dr Ronan McDonnell (Quantified Self Dublin). The message was clear - if you cannot create an enjoyable and engaging experience for the user, your technology is doomed to be forgotten, no matter how cool it is, no matter the user’s age.

The evening concluded with a short demonstration of a new healthcare video messaging application  called HealthSnap, which I will talk more about in another post. Overall, it was a great session. It was great to see such a young and enthusiastic crowd talking about how to improve the care of older people. And, more importantly, how to do it by putting the older person at the center of the debate.

Brenda Reginatto

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