The Interreg INTENCIVE project at its core has a goal to help the elderly to stay independent for as long as possible, no matter where they live. As European nations are getting older, the number of elderly citizens is growing steadily. The current healthcare system cannot handle this change and that is why we need new technologies to help us reduce costs and increase the quality of services. Let’s investigate how some European regions answer to these social changes and try to implement new solutions in a meaningful and customer orientated way.
Helping the elderly to stay independent for as long as possible, no matter where they live, is indeed a great idea. However, it is also a quite complicated endeavour, that requires the cooperation of actors at many different levels of technology, wellbeing and healthcare industries.
Each person is in a different situation, each person has different needs. That is why it is so important to try to develop solutions that are as versatile as possible, but at the same time do not forget to identify special needs that should be addressed as well to additionally increase the served target group.
During the course of the INTENCIVE project, over 25 Good Practices from 5 partnering regions
have been submitted for evaluation. Each of the Good Practices is different and unique, and tries to tackle some problems that sometimes might be very much region related. When we started to analyse the submitted GPs, we came to the conclusion that despite all the differences, we can group them by areas where they share some similarities. For example, how many of them are mobile applications? Or how many help to train social and healthcare personnel? After reviewing all of them, we came up with eight variables that we decided to further investigate.
It is unnecessary to explain how smartphones changed the very fabric of society.
Making possible with just one touch, things earlier unheard-of. This is why one of the variables is dedicated to that aspect. Is it necessary on the end-user side to use their private smartphone/internet connection to access solutions submitted in specific.
Good Practice? We are talking here about a private device. Smartphone or a computer. Applications and online services available only on special devices delivered by the institutions involved in providing the help are not included in this category. You will find these under the “Healthcare/medical/wellbeing device” variable.
This one is quite straightforward. Submitted Good Practices support the elderly who want to live in their home for as long as possible. It can be e.g., a device that allows for a distance monitoring of health conditions or an app that allows for ordering some services with just one click. Simply put, everything that helps to keep the elderly in their own home, without a need for relocation.
This variable is a bit like the previous one, however, the solutions listed here do not require to be directed at the elderly citizens. These are simply all solutions that allow for a distance treatment of patients and save valuable time for medical personnel, as it does not have to travel to the location in person anymore. As well as it saves time and stress for a patient who stays in the comfort of their home.
Every Good Practice that involves the use of hardware provided by the institution coordinating the realisation of the GP is marked under this variable.
Does a Good Practice collect data that could allow for the identification of a specific user? If yes, then a secure data management system is required, and GP should comply with all data protection policies.
If the Good Practice is sponsored or conducted by a government-related entity, if the budget involved in the undertaking is relatively significant, if it requires the acquisition of expensive hardware, then it is listed under this variable.
Any Good Practice that includes training of personnel is included here.
These are Good Practices that support the mental wellbeing of their users and help to stimulate their social life in the best possible way. By making it easier to stay in touch with other human beings or by providing entertainment that supports recovery or increases the quality of life of users.
Of course, this analysis is a subjective look at the matter, so it leaves a whole lot of room for discussion, but it is interesting to look for the similarities as they allowed us to make general conclusions about the direction in which the future of the wellbeing industry is going.
Here is a picture presenting an Excel sheet used to validate each of the Good Practices. You can open it in a new window for higher resolution. They have been grouped by partner region from where they come to allow for easier visualisation of local preferences towards some specific solutions. First I would like to present some general conclusions, then discuss each of the regions one by one, and at the end get to the level of the most interesting Good Practices.
If we look at the general statistics, right away we see that what dominates on the chart of submitted Good Practices are mobile applications and online services. Out of 24 submitted GPs, 14 (~60%) belong to this category. It could not be any different. Using devices already deployed in the pockets of practically every European is greatly lowering the costs of conducting the implementation. Only 6 suggested solutions required the acquisition of some additional hardware/device that would have to be distributed among project participants (it would be 7 GPs, if we count the Showroom for wellbeing technology from South Ostrobothnia, however we’re talking about a different scale of investment here).
Also 14/24 Good Practices focus on supporting wellbeing or improving social life of their users. That is a good sign that technology aims to not only help healthcare professionals to do their job more efficiently, but also remembers the well-being of users. It is scientifically proven that state of mind affects how fast your body recovers.
In healthcare gathering information is very important as it helps to diagnose each patient’s case, that is why a staggering 19/24 (~80%) submitted GPs involve some kind of data management. If we would apply even stricter rules for being included in this category (adding these that seem to collect data but only locally), then 22/24 (~92%) submitted Good Practices involving the use and gathering of potentially sensitive data that should be adequately protected. Many scandals uncovered in the media in the past years proved that this aspect is often not adequately addressed by creators. Hopefully, in our case this issue is taken care of properly.
One last conclusion made from analysing a bigger picture is that Good Practices involving additional training of medical personnel, caregivers or simply anybody interested in gaining knowledge on how to help or serve the elderly are not very popular. Only 5/24 (~21%) of GPs had something to do with training and increasing competences. Now let’s take a closer look at what each of the partner regions has submitted to INTENCIVE project and can we draw some conclusions based on that. Let’s start with the region of South Ostrobothnia, Finland. We can easily notice that the region of South Ostrobothnia, Finland, is not interested in mobile applications or online services. They put pressure on a wide-scale action, working on improving the foundations of the system. So that the change in practices and technology would come from the bottom up. Their good practices might take a longer time to get adopted and show effects, but their fruits will be reaped by the general public. Especially solutions like the modern simulation learning environment which trains future social and wellbeing professionals. Or a training programme for local businesses, which teaches personnel how to serve elderly customers who display memory problems. Other Good Practices are also aimed more at institutions which could utilise them in a structured manner. South Ostrobothnia is a big region with low population density, that is why supporting the elderly at home and distance treatment are quite important if you really want to talk about lowering the costs with eHealth solutions, as distances between patients take a significant amount of time and money to travel. Each of the submitted GPs is a significant undertaking and four out of five require a significant budget to be realised.
In Cantabria, Spain, every submitted Good Practice relies upon a mobile application or online service accessible from the user’s private device. We see that this Spanish region put high pressure on the wide availability of their services. What follows is a relatively low cost of implementation as own devices can be used. GPs like Remote Pre-Operation Assessment in Anesthesia and remote monitoring for post-surgical patients are also useful for easing the stress level and helping patients feel safe even when the doctor cannot be around. That is a significant improvement in the quality of services for patients as they can be safely accepted to the hospital later and discharged earlier thanks to remote monitoring. Freeing up the hospital space for those who really need it. However, such a big pressure on the usage of mobile applications creates another problem – data management and safety. Spanish partners need to make sure that their GPs are well designed and protect the personal data of their users. The problem with applications opened to a wider audience is that sooner than later, somebody might try to break them to obtain the personal data of other users.
The Gozo region in Malta presents a mix of solutions. Some are mobile and online solutions, some more directed to help e.g., in elderly homes or special care units. A flagship Good Practice is definitely a myGozo app which allows for the unification of all health-related services under one roof. It is helpful not only for patients but also for doctors who can provide more complex help as they have access to more data. Most of the submitted GPs involved data management activities, so again it has to be highlighted that users’ data should be protected accordingly and hopefully, it is. Especially mentioned here myGozo app contains very detailed information about individuals. Making sure it’s not misused is of crucial importance here. It is also noticeable that GPs from Gozo are designed to support wellbeing or social life in the region of Gozo.
In the region of Nyugat-Dunántúl, Hungary, we can notice that submitted GPs put pressure on supporting the elderly at home. From games and activities improving brain condition to a network of caretakers, actions are channeled to achieve the set goal of keeping people at home. Most of them are also in the form of a mobile app/online service and all of them involve data management issues. An interesting solution that has a system hiding behind it and people involved in operating it 24/7, 365 days a year is an alarm system for the elderly. Seniors are provided with a special device which allows them to immediately contact emergency services and receive help. This solution supports the elderly staying at home as well as helps to improve their wellbeing. Help is always there, within arm’s reach.
In Bretagne, France, we can notice that solutions aimed at increasing the quality of distance treatment display a strong presence in this region. None of the submitted GPs involve any kind of training programmes, instead, they focus on improving the efficiency of work of healthcare professionals like GWALENN portal or ophthalmology consultations between hospitals. Bretagne has however submitted one innovative and unique Good Practice, that has been already approved by Interreg specialists. The REHAB LAB helps people in need to print prostheses for a fraction of the cost of these from big market names thanks to the use of 3D printing technology.
It is very interesting to compare how each of the regions is approaching eHealth and the opportunities that it creates, as we can notice that some focus more on centralised, multipurpose solutions, while others solve their specific problems with equally specific solutions. Looking at a bigger picture, however, and analysing all solutions submitted for the INTENCIVE project, gives hope that the future of healthcare and wellbeing is bright. Further progressing digitalisation and technological advancements such as the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality or 5G connectivity will change the healthcare and wellbeing sectors forever. Making even complicated surgeries conducted by doctors located hundreds of kilometres away from their patients possible.
We hope that this short insight into the INTENCIVE project and its effects gives you a better understanding of the eHealth and wellbeing solutions available nowadays as well as trends in the wellbeing and healthcare industries.
The Regional Council of South Ostrobothnia is the coordinator and brave enabler of the region’s goals. Our statutory tasks include regional development and planning and our council is formed by the 18 member municipalities of South Ostrobothnia.