Technology will better connect older people to health professionals and their communities
The Institution of Engineering and Technology brought together a panel discussion at SNP Party Conference to look at the potential of technology to enhance the health and care of older people.
Speaking at the event, titled, “An ageing population in a digital world: What role can engineering and technology play in improving quality of life?” Christina McKelvie MSP celebrated the introduction of the Scottish Older People Strategy in April. She also drew attention to the social isolation and loneliness strategy launched last Christmas and insisted that technology would be central to these efforts enabling older people to be more connected and engaged in their communities.
Chris Catlin, Consultant Physician, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, spoke of the importance of engaging people with new technologies and design solutions to involve everyone. He emphasised the need to demonstrate clear evidence to assuage concerns amongst older people over uptake.
Dr Peter Bannister, Chair of the Institution of Engineering and Technology Healthcare Panel, emphasised that integration between the solution and the end user should be the primary focus. He also stressed the need to embed new diagnostic technologies alongside companion treatments.
Mr Catlin stated that emerging technologies would become increasingly familiar and accepted over time. However, he recognised that a suite of innovations were required and a one size fits all approach would be inappropriate.
Ms McKelvie said that she foresaw technologies blending with individuals to meet holistic health needs, as technologies could help identify and resolve the manifold requirements of older people. She said that people with mental health issues or learning disabilities needed further human support to access and utilise technological tools.
The Minister for Older People and Equalities Minister said Scotland’s rurality did present certain issues, but the Scottish Government were investing billions of pounds to improve mobile connectivity within regions. This, she said, could combat social isolation by enabling more face to face interactions via screens.
Dr Bannister agreed that there needed to be a more holistic vision of needs, with technology rooted in that discussion. Speaking more generally on the displacement of human contact by technology, he said the opposite was true, and that technology could provide health professionals with the “gift of time” to have more face to face experiences with patients. He also welcomed the opportunities for video consultations.
Ms McKelvie welcomed the work of the Royal College of General Practitioners in exploring social prescribing as a means of combatting social isolation and loneliness.
Responding to a delegate question that they had witnessed resistance from clinicians and GPs to embrace technologies, Mr Catlin responded by saying that it was a stereotype that clinicians hated computers. However, he insisted that if tech could enable clinical staff to dedicate more time to their patients then it would always be welcomed.
Dr Bannister insisted that companies had failed to undertake or had withheld rigorous assessments of findings presented on the abilities of AI. He said that clinicians should not be striving to beat AI and vice versa, all tech should be assistive and enhancing of a health professionals’ role.
Christina McKelvie MSP welcomed BTs willingness to engage and said that the Government were committed to designing out barriers and designing in inclusivity. She also revealed that Vodaphone were working with the Scottish Government to this end.
Ms McKelvie defended the health board model on the grounds of rurality and the ability for regional expertise. However, she emphasised the importance of collaboration and cooperation between them. Dr Bannister agreed that it was important to have regional expertise and intimated his optimism that Scotland was moving in the right direction on embedding technologies across all areas.