Throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our homes became the ultimate refuge against the virus. We all felt – and still feel – safer in confinement, but especially vulnerable groups: the elderly, people with pre-existing conditions and some specific disabilities.
Elderly people living in care homes turned out to be much more at risk from COVID-19, as it spread like wildfire, reaping many deaths in its wake. One of the main advantages of care homes, the social aspect of living together, turned out to be an Achilles’ heel.
To mitigate the risk, our parents and grandparents were forced to stay in their rooms for hours on end, isolated from one another and their own relatives. The pandemic highlighted problems health professionals and governments are already aware of: on the whole and unless it can’t be avoided, it is better for elderly people to live in their own homes as long as possible, with the assistance of specific technologies and services.
The same can be said for people with disabilities. And going one step further, most of us found it in our interest to use telemedicine to contact our doctors, rather than risk being infected by visiting their surgery.
Active assisted living (AAL) services are therefore becoming more obvious alternatives for most of us. During the height of the pandemic in Europe and Asia, AAL services were not only more convenient and safer, they help to prevent social isolation rather than favour it.
The older generation could use various teleconferencing tools to stay in touch with their families and medical staff, as we all did and are still doing in many countries as the pandemic continues to be a threat. Friends organized concerts, cooking recipes were shared and some even cooked together while several miles apart.
Economic evaluation of AAL
IEC is leading the way in developing standards relating to AAL services. It set up a systems committee, IEC SyC AAL, to promote safety, security, privacy and cross-vendor interoperability in the use of AAL services. SyC AAL has published three innovative publications, which are targeted at health funders, whether private or public, and manufacturers of AAL equipment.
“The idea is to make the full business case for AAL services, looking at different variables, including cost. We want to convince health funders that with AAL systems, you get the greatest benefits for the money you invest,” says Paul Boissoneault, one of the SyC AAL experts much involved in the development of the documents..
These standards are particularly innovative because they branch out into economics. “Economic evaluation is not something the IEC usually does but we felt that promoting AAL services in this way makes a lot of sense, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” agrees Chair of SyC AAL Ulrike Haltrich.
IEC TS 63134 lists use cases of AAL services. IEC 63234-1 establishes a framework for the economic evaluation of AAL services, while IEC 63234-2, looks specifically at the monitoring of patients with chronic diseases.
Evaluating the monitoring of chronic diseases makes a lot of sense. “Chronic diseases represent a growing percentage of illnesses in societies where people are living much longer than fifty years ago. Looking at how best to monitor these, and at what cost, can help health systems make the right decisions in an informed manner,” Boissoneault observes.
For Haltrich, it is all part of the new normal. “Ideally you will be able to hire services for whatever you need, using the IoT, artificial intelligence and, why not, robots. Cyber security will be an increasing issue for us, as well. Technology is moving fast and we are looking into all of this.