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Is tech improving the care experience?

Technology is increasingly being used in health and aged care settings to combat a number of issues. Infra-red vein finders, nurse-specific smart devices and various monitoring tools are being introduced on wards, Skype and iPads are helping keep families connected to loved ones in aged care, and across the world we are seeing the rise of robots in care.

A recent story from the US told of a doctor giving an elderly patient the news that he did not have long to live – via robot.

According to reports, a nurse wheeled in a device with a screen attached and the doctor proceeded to interact with the patient from another location, leaving the family “devastated” and “upset”. It got to the point where the patient's granddaughter had to break the news to her grandfather “because he couldn't hear what the robot was saying”.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently given out warnings regarding the use of robots in cancer surgeries, as reported by the New York Times.

Robotic cancer surgery has been common for 15 years, and the robot’s arms are controlled by a computer that is run by a surgeon.

The FDA cited two recently published journal findings that showed, in some cases, patients “experienced four times as many cancer recurrences and six times as many deaths, compared with patients who had the more traditional procedure".

A study into the feasibility of iPad video-conferencing in aged care found technologies to be challenging for older residents.

The researchers said that although the elderly like the idea, without training and help from staff, video-conferencing is difficult, while residents had privacy and cyber-security concerns.

Another option being increasingly considered is telepresence robots. Unlike the doctor robot being wheeled around, or the iPad, these robots are controlled by a remote user, likely the family of the resident.

A study of these robots in Finland found that for the elderly, telepresence provides benefits over non-mobile video connections as they can interact with it in a more natural manner. The robots also increase the feeling of security, as the elderly feel that people can 'virtually' pop by and keep an eye on them.

Lamson, a robot currently being used in residential care, delivers medicine and meals, takes laundry and can even use lifts.

The next step in patient care may well be more hands on. Griffith University has been using social robots to interact with people with dementia, and a new startup out of Sydney has been experimenting with robots that can help patients take their medicine.

Ikkiworks’ new robot, ikki, is part companion, part clinician. Trialled primarily with children living with cancer, ikki can take the temperature of a patient, as well as identify medication and alert the patient if the medication is incorrect.

Eventually ikkiworks hopes to broaden the robot's horizons and use it for other ages, medical conditions and health spaces, such as in aged care for “monitoring and providing companionship, for a group of people who we know do tend to be isolated," said Ikkiworks co-founder Clive McFarland.

Billy is another technology attempting to improve elder care. It's a series of sensors that track different activity types – temperature, movement, motion, opening/closing doors – and send the information wirelessly to the hub in real-time.

A smartphone app then presents the information to family and carers, giving them peace of mind, and allowing the elderly to keep a sense of independence.

Wendy Moyle from Griffith University said: “I think the next innovations will be assistive robots integrated with smart homes to help older adults to stay at home longer.

“These are multifunctional robots that are voice activated, can assist a person with activities of daily living, monitor wellbeing and report wellbeing to healthcare professionals/family and can virtually connect the person.

“Currently, most technologies tend not to be multifunctional whereas users want them to be able to undertake multiple tasks so that they don't have to purchase multiple products. Such products must be developed with end-user involvement at all levels so that the design is appropriate for older users and it is functional,” she said

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