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6 Innovations That Will Change Healthcare

Brian Eastwood | Feb. 19, 2013
When economists, data scientists and medical professionals team up, the result is often remarkable innovation. These six examples from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Future of Health and Wellness Conference could change the way patients interact with hospitals, physicians and each other.

The challenge, of course, is making sure it's not mundane-booking an appointment, Jones says, should be no more difficult than making a dinner reservation using OpenTable. Demographics are a key factor here. As Jones sees it, the wellness movement essentially began in the mid-1990s, when baby boomers turned 50 and marketers, seeing an opportunity, appealed to boomers' interests like never before. As a result, wellness apps typically target a demographic less tech savvy than the people making them.

For wellness application developers, considerations extend beyond ease of use. Even typeface matters. In studying driving's impact on seniors, Lisa D'Ambrosio, a research scientist in the MIT AgeLab, discovered that "humanist" fonts, with rounded letters and numbers that look handwritten, are easier for older drivers to read than fonts with squared edges.

4. Home Care: Make It Easy, Involve Everyone

Driving is immensely important for seniors-if they can't get around, they become isolated. It's part of a larger wish to remain independent and avoid entering institutionalized care. This isn't surprising, D'Ambrosio says, noting that today's seniors are wealthier, healthier, better-educated and more diverse than ever before.

To date, technology's impact on keeping seniors in their homes remains small. Though 60 percent of seniors (ages 65 and above) told the AARP in 2008 they'd be willing to use a device such as an activity monitor if it meant remaining at home longer, adoption rates for services such as LifeLine are much lower than that, D'Ambrosio points out. (This is also true in the United Kingdom and Western Europe, where the government subsidizes such purchases.) Concerns are many and include privacy, affordability, accessibility, availability of technical support and lack of confidence in using the technology; moreover, these concerns are shared by patients as well as their caregivers, albeit less so if that caregiver is an adult child as opposed to a spouse.

Through the AgeLab's e-home project, D'Ambrosio and her team studied the effectiveness of a desktop setup that aimed to improve seniors' adherence to medication regimens. (Fewer than half of seniors keep prescriptions in an open, easy-to-reach area.) The setup included a monitor where patients and caregivers could leave notes, an "information globe" that amounted to a "you've got mail" icon and an RFID-enabled medication table.

The ehome study concluded that patients were more likely to adhere to their schedules if they and their caregivers (in this case, their children) were notified about a missed dose, as opposed to only the patient receiving a reminder. More reminders also meant more communication between parents and children. Equally telling, though, was the participant feedback: The setup would have worked even better had it taken up less counter space.

 

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