The 4G X-Factor: How LTE could Assist in Home Healthcare

In June, I participated in Digital Capital Week – ten days of sessions around digital media, social media, video games, the digital divide, and other varied and sundry topics.

One session dealt with broadband connectivity within Washington DC, an interesting and relevant topic in our nation’s capital. The panel consisted of someone from the CTO’s office of the District, CLEAR (a national ISP), and the organization – One Economy.

An audience member found more of a crisis for our elderly and aging population, however, being concerned that their lack of ease, understanding and ability in dealing with the latest connected technologies will leave them ever more disassociated from what is important to them, from the world and their families.  This woman wondered if they are the lost generation in this digital age. My answer to her is “yes.”  But only if we proceed in developing products as we have been.

It is incumbent upon us as designers and developers of technology and technology experiences that we take the next step in our process. Our technology now is at a point where its limitations have diminished so significantly that it no longer holds us back. It’s now up to our imagination to determine how to use technology to accomplish what is possible and needed, in an accessible format. And 4G/LTE is one of these technologies.

This got me thinking. How could 4G/LTE serve different industries, like home healthcare?

The elderly need a human touch. They want to talk to someone, see someone, have that person be with them as they explain things, have a dialogue and a connection. Human frailty has often begun to set in with arthritis, difficulty in seeing, difficulty in remembering, and other physical limitations. But they want to stay engaged, be spoken to like the adults they are, be cared for, be vital.

If we approach design of a home health product from the perspective of the human being we are creating it for, their personalities, wants, needs and abilities, what might we come up with? Can we open the doors to a new world of home healthcare?

Here’s one idea:

A large scale digital display of 6.5’ x 4’. All screen. It would allow for two-way video and voice communication.

  • This creates a more immersive conversational experience with a doctor, another healthcare caretaker, one’s children, etc.
    • Conversations with one’s doctor can take place in a comfortable seated manner over video conferencing software.
  • The screen may have a bar beside it or somewhere convenient, and this bar has several sensors. One can rest one’s hand on it and blood pressure is taken. Another element may contain a way for testing for insulin. A floor platform can test for weight, bone density, body alignment. Depending on the sophistication of existing technology, it may be possible to place a frame of sensors around the screen which would do a variety of diagnostic readings as the individual stands or sits before it.
    • The readings are sent automatically to the respective health care professionals as well as family and friends, as desired by the individual.
  • Remembering to take medications is a key issue. If this product is placed in the living room, there are a number of ways a friendly reminder might be given. Or other formats might be:
    • A medicine cabinet that can offer reminders to take medications, as well as monitor how a medicine is being used, and when it might need to be refilled (this would also automate the refill and delivery process of medications).
    • A smaller screen in the kitchen which would remind someone to take their medications. A health consultant could check in at different times and have a conversation with the individual about their medications, making sure they take them, seeing how they look and what they say about how they feel.
    • The device could record all the medications being taken by that individual which are then accessible by anyone who is given permission – for example the doctors, so they can ensure there are no conflicting side effects; children who want to check in on their parents; or friends.
  • Staying active is important – one-on-one or group exercises lessons can be given where the professional can see the full body movements of the individual, and give personal encouragement, and offer suggestions. Classes or group gatherings, health related programs and movies can all be participated in and experienced through this product.
  • It could be voice activated, allowing for simple conversational commands to turn it on, reach particular individuals, and do certain functions.
  • The screen can also be used at its full size, or it can have smaller “browser” windows opened so that a user can also just talk to a person or multiple people without seeing a full image.

Clearly this is a very rough cut of one idea. But it got me thinking, because we have the technology, we have the connectivity and we have the means to design and produce products and services that both address a need and that truly pay attention to the end user. Instead of focusing only on the next cool tech, we need to challenge ourselves to design an experience that benefits people and which uses technology as one of means to that end.

What do you think is possible with 4G/LTE?

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