We are fast approaching a time when technology catches up with the futuristic ‘Black Mirror’ possibilities of our imaginations.
With self-drive cars predicted to hit our roads by 2020 and robots already playing a role in manufacturing and the service industries, new and emerging technologies are likely to impact every aspect of our lives over the next ten years.
For the health and social care sector the digital revolution offers potential solutions beyond our wildest dreams. At a time when the NHS and underfunded social care sectors struggle to maintain the status quo, innovation and technology could forge a more harmonious future.
Changes to the delivery of health and social care provision are overdue. Support for the sick or struggling have continued to improve, whilst healthier lifestyles have led to an aging population. Women born in 2015 can expect to live to 82 and men to 79 (4 and 5 years more than those born in 1991). In parts of Britain up to 39% of the population will be over 65 by 2036. (Office for National Statistics, Overview of the UK Population: July 2017.)
How tech can help people to live independently
Those living active, independent lives beyond their 60s are still at risk of age-related conditions like heart disease, osteoarthritis and diabetes, which need expensive long-term management. At this age people are often living with more than one long-term condition, which adds to the financial burden of keeping people well and the need to do more with less.
The good news is that health-tech innovators are working hard to embrace emerging technologies by creating applications, gadgets and devices that reduce the time, money and resources needed to provide care effectively.
Robot micro and macro surgeons, virtual reality pain distraction, digital diagnostic and monitoring tools, remote GP services, and co-operative online info sharing. They all sound fabulously futuristic but in reality, many of these tech developments are already being trialled.
In our homes and communities, we’re also embracing technologies that benefit our wellbeing. Innovators are ready to fit smart homes with sensors that detect falls in the elderly, home video links to GPs/ health professionals and virtual reality applications that link family and friends, to reduce loneliness. ‘The home could reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought and generally improve health and well-being.’ NHBC Foundation Futurology: the new home in 2050.
Liverpool’s 5G health & social care test bed
Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care is taking a lead role in developing and trialling these community and home technologies. Funded by the government as part of its 5G strategy, Liverpool’s 5G Health and Social Care Testbed is the first 5G testbed in Europe with a purely health and social care remit.
Committed to answering the question, ‘can 5G technology have a measurable impact on the provision of health and social care services’, the project aims to provide much needed digital health technology to people living in Kensington, Liverpool, with specific needs.
Throughout the project local SMEs based in Liverpool’s thriving innovation, tech and knowledge hub, The Baltic Triangle, will get the chance to take centre stage with the technology they have conceptualised and designed. All of which is now being used in the trials. The project brings a diverse skill-set of people together in a unique collaboration between SMEs, hospitals, universities, council and Bristol tech company Blu Wireless.
Healthcare in the home
11 different health and social care use cases have been developed so far, with potentially more in the pipeline. They include a digital loneliness device called ‘Push to Talk’, ‘Paman’, a gadget that provides a video link to local pharmacies for people taking medicine at home, a dehydration device for older people and home sensor systems that link to family or carers to prevent falls in older people.
Push to Talk loneliness device
The project employs Blu Wireless’s 5G mesh networks. Nodes are attached to lamp-posts in the neighbourhood and provide free, unlicensed 5G technology to the homes taking part.
The innovative, collaborative nature of the project is entirely in keeping with the 5G technology being employed, as unlicensed 5G offers disruptive possibilities for communities working together to minimise the ‘digital divide.’
The importance of the 5G test bed
Liverpool’s 5G Health and Social Care Testbed showcases 5G technology perfectly, because 5G is a great supportive technology for small-scale home-based health applications. These applications will become more prevalent as we move towards preventative self-care, rather than reactive hospital-based treatment, bringing health and social care provision into our homes.
For a self-management approach to work, we must be able to rely on the technology supporting the devices and gadgets we are using as part of our care packages and 5G has the durability that’s needed.
5G is also faster and transfers more data than either 3G or 4G. The unlicensed part of the spectrum that we are using to host our 5G, also makes it more accessible and affordable, paving the way for other emerging devices and wireless technologies.
If we want people to adopt and use emerging technologies, embracing them as part of their lifestyles, we need to make them as reliable, easy to use and accessible as possible.
For more information on Liverpool’s 5G project visit the website here
Featured image: inside board of the Push to Talk device