Posted on Nov 14, 2019, 1 p.m.
Artificial intelligence, algorithms and smart speakers are being designed to target improvements in both healthspan and lifespan yet investment and innovation remains largely without consideration of the wider application potential by most companies who could thrive in this space, with exception to the tech giants.
The pressure is on to find ways for people to live more independently as the global population lives longer, to reduce the burden on healthcare systems and improve the quality of life for those in their later years in life. The US Institute of Medicine suggests that “designing technologies today for an accessible tomorrow should be a national priority.”
Expansion of interest in this technology means that companies that may not have been previously linked to longevity are now using existing technologies to develop strategies geared towards independent living for those who may need care or those who just want added convenience.
Amazon has spread the voice of Alexa around the globe via over 100 million smart speakers, Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimate their Echo speakers represent 73% of the smart speaker share in the American market alone, while Alexa devices with voice assisted technology could be utilized for development of care for independent living. Imaging the system sending an alert spoken out loud in a manner similar to a conversation: “Ted, have you taken your medication this morning, if you need help would you like me to call your daughter for you?” Alexa has a range of patient based solutions that are designed to help users manage their health, including Sugarpod which is a comprehensive diabetes care plan, and an H20-Pal plan that helps monitor water intake to maintain hydration.
LifePod Solutions has a proactive voice caregiving service designed to improve the quality of life for both the care recipients and caregivers; this technology combines voice first user interface technologies, artificial intelligence, and personalization capabilities to enable families and professional caregivers to customize their support and allow real time monitoring of loved ones. The care recipient will respond to each routine without needing to turn on or wake up the device, or need to remember how to say a command or ask a question, somewhat like a conversation; the tech service also allows caregivers to monitor responses remotely, which can be configured to also send text alerts if required.
Libertana Home Health Care are developing their own technology with the aging population in mind that will record oral messages about health issues, symptoms and medical data such as blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and utilize this information to issue reminders about medication, or call for medical care assistance. The company suggests that this technology could even have further positive impact on mental health as it may help to break the loneliness cycle.
These technologies have a hurdle of patient privacy issues to overcome whether this be GDPR or HIPAA compliance in order for them to become of more assistance in hospitals and other medical settings. Makers of these technologies will need to ensure that patient health and personal information is protected and secured. Amazon is currently investigating the process in alignment with its acquisition of PillPack which they hope will take a share of the $500 billion prescription market. Google is also looking to branching its cloud computing technologies into hospital systems and is working with Ascension Health which has come under concerns and is facing federal inquiries into the safekeeping of data and consent from patients for its use.
Such voice assisted technologies certainly have advantages such as reminders to take tablets and encouraging people to drink water and get up and be active, even going as far as to suggest a walk in a beautiful park nearby and provide directions along with weather conditions. However, there is a privacy/safety concern over how much personal information they are provided with, and we should also be cautious about relying on them for diagnosis and treatment instructions.
This technology may have suggestions that are deduced by algorithms which search for outcomes of similar scenarios to provide the most likely suggestion, this process may be accurate sometimes but actual clinicians may spot something tech is not able to and will ask more questions to ascertain something the patient may not be saying or even be aware of. All artificial intelligence will become more reliable as it gathers more evidence to enter into the database, regulatory approval of algorithms will speed up as the US FDA looks to support further adoption of technologies. However, AI will most likely never be as good as an actual clinician as they can see the patient and fill in the missing gaps of information with additional questioning, but it could be of use in addition to in person care.
A quick search will show that it is not just Amazon looking to harness the possibilities of smart speakers being utilized to provide enhanced quality of life, Google, Apple, LifePod and a few others have similar voice assisted technologies that may be able to provide monitoring and assistance. There are resources available as well as a need/demand for longevity market solutions and development, the smart move may be for others or even startups to integrate their business operations into AgeTech before the tech giants establish even more dominance. Keep in mind that while this assistive technology will be of interest to the aging population, but it also has great implications for others with disabilities as well. The potential is there, the technology just needs to be further developed, safeguarded, and mainstreamed.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.