Will the Internet of Things Make Us Lonely?

Will the Internet of Things Make Us Lonely?

Apparently, the UK is the loneliness capital of Europe (following Brexit this could get a whole lot worse). There are social and cultural reasons for this increase in loneliness. For example, today we have smaller families than before and many of us live long distances from where we grew up or went to school. However, a large contributor to this loneliness epidemic has been digital disruption. Today we use messaging and social media rather than talking to friends and relatives, we shop online rather than visit a local shop and a skype call has replaced many face to face conversations. While we’ve never been so connected, in a sense we’ve also never been so far apart.

With the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) could this loneliness problem be about to get much worse? One of the earliest successes of the IoT industry are those companies that provide smart home and activity monitoring for elderly citizens. Multiple companies today provide in home monitoring devices such as door and lock sensors, temperature and light sensors and even smart kettles that can monitor user activity and predict problems with users before they become more serious events.

These IoT devices can provide peace of mind to relatives and have the potential to allow elderly citizens to continue to lead independent lives for much longer than was previously possible. Crucially they also enable care organizations to respond rapidly when a serious problem occurs. The downside however is if the IoT devices are used to replace that daily visit to check in on an elderly relative or friend or if IoT devices are used to reduce the number of home care visits provided by health visitors and social workers and cut down on the number of routine checkups and health reviews.

The IoT has therefore the potential to deliver further digital disconnection and patient loneliness. Recent research has indicated that loneliness can increase mortality risk by 26%. In 2016 the Local Government Association in the UK urged councils to recognize loneliness among older people as a “major public health concern” with consequences comparable to smoking and obesity. The use of the IoT in healthcare and assisted living could potentially make patients health worse if its role is not considered holistically and viewed as being only one part of an overall patient care and mobile workforce management solution.

When evaluating the use of the IoT in health care and assisted living, focus should not be on simply reducing costs and eliminating homecare visits. The IoT is also an opportunity to improve customer satisfaction, service quality and responsiveness. IoT devices should be used as a way of providing context to health workers, for example providing alerts when a patient hasn’t taken their medication, if they have been taking less exercise or if their patterns of behaviour are unusual. This contextual data can then be used to improve employee decision making and the effectiveness of homecare visits. By integrating the IoT devices used in assisted care situations with smart mobile workforce management applications we can automatically adjust and optimise care worker schedules in response to data obtained by the IoT. We can use IoT contextual data to ensure the mobile worker is automatically given the right information to
make their home visit more effective. We can automatically schedule additional visits to the patient if the IoT devices indicate patterns of behaviour associated with loneliness. Together the IoT plus mobile workforce management can improve responsiveness and the quality of patient care leading to benefits for both the patient and health care provider.

The IoT will bring multiple security, responsiveness and peace of mind benefits to elderly patients and their relatives, however we also need to ensure that it does not exacerbate the loneliness and is instead used to improve the quality and effectiveness of patient care.

 

For further information on how Totalmobile can assist you with your IoT objectives and help deliver the next generation of assisted living services please click here.

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Peter Whibley

Peter works for Totalmobile in Belfast as a Software Product Manager.

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