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News from Europe's AAL community

Vienna played host this year to the 2009 AAL Forum – an opportunity for researchers, policy makers and business people to discuss their progress towards cost-effective and practical ways to support older people living at home. Here are some of the highlights and insights picked up by the Netcarity News reporting team.

Governments must help drive innovation in healthcare

A good healthcare system gives Europe a competitive advantage, Microsoft’s European chair Jan Muehlfeit told the AAL Forum. “By keeping the social heart beating, we can keep the productivity heart beating.” But, he said, there is a need to shift health for ageing from a reactive to a proactive approach, and to connect
people’s healthcare to their lifestyles.

Muehlfeit sees a future where personal devices monitor people’s local environmental factors such as air quality, and determine the choices they make about daily activities. Healthcare needs greater use of technology, he said, noting the sector lagged behind manufacturing and finance in adopting technology.

Among the barriers to technology uptake in healthcare was the absence of large government support programmes. Also standing in the way was the lack of an agreed telemedicine framework, sustainable business models, the absence of an agreed assessment methodology and ongoing privacy concerns.

New IT developments, new sensors, better knowledge management and business intelligence were positive factors which would drive progress in AAL, he said. And better disease management would bring cost savings.

Asked what single thing would encourage progress, Muehlfeit cited more government strategy and execution. Governments were missing the opportunity to use the financial crisis to explain AAL to their public, he said. “We need more political leadership and more courage from our leaders.”

Innovation is not a luxury

Health insurers have a crucial role in the development of AAL, including disease management initiatives and the sharing and integration of data, said Irina Odnoletkova, innovation manager from Belgium’s Independent Health Insurance Funds. She told an industrial round table there was insufficient use of ICT in
healthcare, and not enough focus on prevention of disease and complications associated with ageing.

“Innovation is not a luxury,” Odnoletkova said. She agreed that the absence of business models was holding AAL back. “We need to bring stakeholders together to share best practice and understanding of healthcare and financial models in different countries.”

Case study:
Implementing cost-effective labour saving practices

Denmark and Holland are among the countries funding simple labour saving and productivity innovations as a cost-effective contributor to AAL.

Denmark

The Danish government is encouraging projects which find new ways of working at nursing homes, schools and hospitals by funding problem owners rather than technology providers. Solutions are encouraged to be innovative and sufficiently generic to be replicated in an accessible and sustainable way, said Nanna
Skovgaard from Denmark’s finance ministry.

“Our policy is to start with a real-life problem, not the solution, and develop a clear business case.” Close monitoring of projects helps national implementation where the business case has clear benefits. Skovgaard said her government was interested in whether investment was most productive in specialised high-end
innovations, or basic large-scale solutions. Everyday problems were much more interesting, she said, and service innovation should not be confused with technical innovation. “We need to be giving people what they want – not what we think they need.”

Holland

Similar work is being carried out by ZonMw, which is responsible for the Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) Joint Programme in the Netherlands.

Barbara Van der Linden from ZonMw says technology has an important role to play in helping older people live alone, but it must complement not overshadow the development of other labour-saving practices.

ZonMw developed an online measurement tool to assess and develop new care innovations. This allows carers and patients to input details about current practices to assess quality and overall time taken.

ZonMw then called for simple but effective ideas to reorganise basic care practices, using the measurement tool to analyse their potential effectiveness. Of the 200 ideas, half received funding for implementation.

One was a specially designed cloth to reduce the need for bathing. Another was communal eating times, rather than delivered meals, which improved the dining experience whilst reducing overall labour.

“With effective measurement, we proved many simple projects could save time and money,” says Van der Linden. “With the right support to upscale across Europe they could have a huge economic impact, as well improving the quality of life for many older people.”

The measurement tool, currently being translated into English, allows users to understand the effectiveness of their project and compare them with alternatives. “It is not just for small projects,” Van der Linden stresses, “it will help to inform and develop all labour saving and quality of care ideas, whether they are simple reorganisations or the introduction of cutting edge technology.”