I am yet to take ownership of an Amazon Echo but seeing this latest must-have gadget in action has really got me thinking on the advancements of such everyday technology and moreover the potential benefits it unlocks.  

The ability to ask Alexa (Amazon Echo) to play our favourite music track or seek her reassurance on whether your umbrella is needed is arguably not one of life’s essentials, at least not yet.  But this device alone illustrates at the very least the advances of voice recognition technology – even with a Scottish accent.  Furthermore, it brings to life, for us non-techies, the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT).

With recent announcements of further constraints on government budgets, the challenge of funding public services going forward should not be underestimated, especially where the demand is predicted to grow.  One example of this is the increasing demand for resources to properly support and protect the most vulnerable in our communitie

We are nearly at the first anniversary of the new Health and Social Care integration in Scotland, with the commendable overarching ambition of “… enabling people to stay in their homes … sharing their lives with their family and friends, doing the things that give life meaning and value.[1]  Everyone involved with Health and Social Care supports such service integration and agrees this is the way forward, with practitioners pointing to obvious benefits to users and finance directors pointing supportively to their spreadsheets.

 This brings us back to Alexa and her position of pride of place in our modern homes.  What difference would such relatively inexpensive technology bring to supporting our most vulnerable citizens in their homes and communities?

Surely access to an ‘Alexa’ type device in the home, with the ability to acknowledge requests verbally, digitally translate them and search the internet for the requested information, and then transmitting the response to you, all in a matter of microseconds, would be a valuable aid to anyone with mobility or visual impairments.  This may not address bed blocking directly but with an appreciation of the various everyday IoT devices that can be connected and controlled (e.g. lighting, thermostats, Smart TV) you can quickly realise its transformational potential.

Why not also add access to video conferencing to homes (e.g. Skype, FaceTime), with the comfort and wellbeing this brings through by visual access to friends and family, and with an increased access to services?  What about introducing remote monitoring of the heating and video doorbells?  Such smart home additions would provide reassurance not only to the person but also to their loved ones.

How much would access to these everyday technologies really cost? What benefits would they bring to quality of life and ability to live longer at home?

And, all this before you expand consideration to existing smart health technologies that support remote monitoring and diagnostics, data analytics etc. all of which are already proven to minimise resource intensive appointments and interventions.

In terms of Health and Social Care agenda, the real benefit to the technology behind Alexa is the ability to utilise Artificial Intelligence to seamlessly interface with the vast complexities of disparate data sources to identify the information you need and return it back to you, all in a fraction of a second.  Such existing technology goes a long way to addressing some of the challenges undoubtedly being deliberated by our new Joint Integration Boards across the country.

The complexities of Health and Social Care will require the many years of planning, scoping and implementation ahead to realise the full opportunity on offer.  However, if you asked Alexa today how to achieve your goals more quickly, she may quote back to you Mark Twain “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.  The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.”

Exception work with some of the largest public sector organisations in the UK in the integration of digital services into their existing operations to expand their reach and enhance service delivery.  Waracle, our Mobile Technologies arm, are recognised as a global leader in IoT development and as market leaders in the design and development of mobile applications and web solutions to meet the unique and complex business requirements of customers.

If you’re interested in hearing more on technological trends or need advice with any aspect of your digital ambitions, please contact our dedicated Exception team.

Paul Rooney (Head of Public Sector, Exception)

[1] Scottish Government, 16 August 2016.  Available at: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Health/Policy/Adult-Health-SocialCare-Integration

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