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A new vision for 'social security'

Home healthcare smart sensors help keep Italian seniors living in place

There's no getting around it: today's urban managers face some tough challenges. More than half the people in the world now live in cities. Municipal budgets are static or decreasing. Resources are limited. The aging population is growing globally, as is the number of people with disabilities. At the same time, demand for better access to healthcare, expanded services and a higher overall quality of life is on the rise in every city.

As a result, many city leaders are finding themselves wondering, “How exactly do I meet all these changing expectations with the resources I have, without increasing service costs?”

The answer, it turns out, is to rethink service delivery from the perspective of individual needs. And find smarter, alternative and affordable ways to connect and empower people through technology. Take, for example, the city of Bolzano, Italy. Faced with a stagnant, 10-year budget forecast, restricted resources and the need to address healthcare and safety needs of a rapidly growing percentage of healthy citizens over the age of 70, city leaders got creative.

The city is sponsoring the Secure Living project—created by the IBM Human Centric Solution Centers Europe, IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center, IBM Hursley Emerging Technologies Lab, TIS Innovation Park, the technological park of Bolzano, and Dr. Hein GmbH—to help seniors safely 'age in place' at home. The jointly developed solution integrates accessibility innovation with sensor technology and architecture built on IBM HCS Intelligent Pervasive Platform for sensors. IPP for sensors is based on an IBM WebSphere Application Server with, MQ Telemetry Transport for reliable messaging to deliver home remote safety monitoring and interaction.

Here's how it's working during the pilot with 30 elderly residents in Bolzano:

Safe at home

Seniors' homes are equipped with remote sensors to monitor the environment in real time, checking for changes in temperature or potential dangers such as water leaks or high levels of carbon monoxide. Data is transmitted and displayed on a dashboard in an off-site central control room, and on an assigned operator's Android mobile device via e-mail, SMS or Twitter. When problems arise and immediate action is required, alerts are sent to family members, volunteer ‘angels,' members of the Bolzano Social Services Department or local emergency staff, based on the individual's specific need. The approach ensures that the user receives only the care needed, and healthcare and social services systems are not strained by answering calls on a “one-alert-fits-all” basis.

Smarter, social medicine

Another group of elderly citizens in the Secure Living project are testing a new approach to home healthcare. The interactive system allows residents to communicate via accessible touch screen technology with health professionals who can immediately provide healthcare recommendations or answer patient questions. Suggestions for tutored physical training and exercises to stretch mental faculties, for example, are all provided by healthcare professionals to patients, on demand. Health data on each participant is collected and analyzed, and if necessary, family members, volunteers or social services professionals are notified to help.

Lessons learned, Italian style

The benefits of Bolzano's Secure Living project are ultimately enormous in scope. By connecting smart sensors, monitoring, data analytics and management and accessible technology to human resources citywide, elderly citizens are empowered to remain at safely home for longer periods, reducing the number of patients in public and private assisted living facilities. Family members also have the peace of mind of knowing that they are always virtually connected to parents and other aging relatives.

From an urban management perspective, the on-demand and need-based model for the solution significantly reduces strain on local resources and systems. Social services agencies, which are alerted only when truly needed, have the capability to serve more people without increasing staff. Health care professionals are free to focus on more seriously ill patients who need to been seen more frequently for in-office visits. And city leaders can affordably deliver on the promise of a higher quality of life for senior citizens and their families. Very smart.

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