Home-care IT can leave patients with cognitive problems powerless

For all the ways that technology can help support patients in the home, it also holds the potential for exclusion and powerlessness, according to an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

The article focuses on challenges that technology for self-diagnosis, health monitoring and care can pose for patients with physical and cognitive problems. Makers of these technologies--such as remote monitoring, sensor networks and even social robots--generally assume the user has a basic ability to operate it. That, however, might not be true, and such an expectation also can impact how people with disabilities view themselves and how useful the technology will be.

"While we applaud advances in healthcare support made possible through emerging technologies, we urge critical examination of such technologies and their implications for the rights and dignity of people with diverse abilities," write the authors, from the University of Calgary.

The authors urge product designers to keep people with physical, cognitive or sensory differences in mind during the development of their technology. This will become more important as home health increases. The U.S. home health technology market is expected to double by 2018, reaching $5.8 billion, according to market analysis from IHS.

They point to studies that find even some people with normal cognitive function can be confused by information they find online. To that end, they wonder, aren't people with cognitive problems facing an even higher potential for exclusion in their ability to access such information and understand it?

The use of sensors and robots can reduce human interaction and the hands-on relationship of healthcare providers, the study's authors say. People with disabilities also might experience powerlessness in their ability to operate and control devices and give consent for their use. 

A report published in November based on a roundtable discussion "Aging Well Working Session Series: Next Generation Tech" hosted by the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business, explored barriers to the use of IT in healthcare, including complexity of use.

To learn more:
- read the article

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