These days technology moves at lightning speed, yet it takes an average of 17 years for scientific evidence to become best practice in healthcare, says the Ministry of Health’s Jon Herries.

That’s the equivalent, says Herries, who heads up the Emerging Health Technology team, of running on the first Apple iPod, launched in 2001 and now discontinued.

Technology involves three horizons, Herries told the Home and Community Health Association’s Homespace forum in Wellington earlier this month.

The first horizon includes solutions that make the status quo more effective, like a new car tyre that makes stopping and cornering safer in the rain. “It’s where you have things that make what you do, every day, slightly better… basically the Toyota concept.”

On the far side, the third horizon, are things that are disruptive, like Uber, or smartphones.

“They come along, change how we live and you kind of don’t know where they came from.”

In the middle, on horizon two, he says, are the bits of technology that come together to make the cutting-edge tech possible. A self-driving car is a future possibility, but some of the necessary technology, like lidar (laser radar) and adaptive cruise control, is already available in some cars.

Emerging healthcare deals with horizon two- and three-type technology. It can be “risky [and] kind of scary” to talk about that type of technology in the health care industry, he says, but it’s important because it’s all around us and it’s changing the environment in which we work.

Yet, he says, people in healthcare “all think about innovation but we all think about it differently, we don’t have a very common language when we talk about it”.

The problem in the healthcare industry is that there are three different groups – providers (like DHBs and the aged care and home care sectors), scientific researchers and business.

Unfortunately, these three groups don’t talk to each other, mistrust each other and, as a result, things take a long time to change, he says.

“How can we work together better between research, business and the people who deliver care?”

To do this, they are in the process of creating a sustainable network of people who will help deliver emerging health technology.

“We want to focus on stuff that will make an impact, do things faster than 17 years, and as much I’ve talked to you about technology today, this isn’t about technology – it’s about trust, people and talking to each other.”

The network will also help others in the sector to start to understand technology, how is can be used and why it might be useful, he adds.

Several health technology ‘incucelerators’ (a hybrid of incubator and accelerator) are working on innovations in Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North and Christchurch.

Some technology that could help clients in the aged care sector in the future includes wearables similar to Apple Watches and FitBits, and in-home, wi-fi connected sensors.

These can monitor everything from movement (making sure a client is not stuck in bed all day, for instance), air quality (to ensure the house is not burning down) and fridges (to observe regular meals).

Self-driving cars “will be really big for older people, you could keep driving forever” and in-home robots, such as exoskeletons which are on the verge of coming to market, could be operated by carers remotely.

The age-care sector is increasingly seeing some cutting-edge technology in use, from cloud-based technology to artificial intelligence and analytics, says Kellee Ireland, from Health Metrics.

Yet there is plenty available that any care worker who owns a smartphone could use, she told the Homespace delegates.

“I’m talking about technology that is still easy to use, an app or device with six buttons. If you can make a phone call or send a text then they can use these apps.”

Even if the tech was simple, it was often still disruptive. There was an app now available that could lead to the “Uber-isation” of roster systems.

“We all have last-minute shift cancellations. But what if it was possible for workers to bid for shifts?” The organisation could still set the bidding price, she adds.

Herries says he is frequently asked if there will be a role for humans in healthcare in the future.

“My view is that there is always going to be people in healthcare, they’re not going to do the same things they’ve always done for 150 years, but there will be no shortage of people in healthcare because I think there’s an empathy piece, I think there’s an ethics piece.”

Both the kaiāwhina movement, which uses a holistic, strengths-based approach, and the healthcare navigation movement are going to grow in importance, he argues.

“While the machines can do things for us, the ability to talk to somebody and decide what the best course of action is and to work with you, building your confidence and understanding what you need – I think there’s a real human touch required, and that’s something we’ve been thinking about.”

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