Smart Tech: Improving the lives of millions living with a long-term disease
Chronic diseases present a significant challenge to the European Union, costing over €700 billion annually and affecting one third of all adults. Furthermore, each year over 4 million people pass away from chronic diseases in Europe, accounting for 86 % of all deaths. As computers have become more available, researchers and tech start-ups are applying new technologies to today’s quality of life and disease management problems. Fortunately, they have developed some innovative solutions in smart tech to make living with these types of illnesses easier.
As roughly one third of adults within the European Union are living with a chronic illness, it is vitally important to employ technology to improve the quality of life and disease management of those affected. Loneliness can have far-reaching impacts both on one’s mental health and the resulting feelings of depression can have serious implications for a patient’s ability to manage their disease. Motivation or ability to remember to take medication may be impeded, which, among other factors, can lead to increased rates of patient hospitalisation and longer stays.
Personal assistant technologies can offer benefits like readily available advice for patients in need. The French tech start-up Wefight has built a virtual companion to combat loneliness in chronic disease patients. This virtual companion, named ‘Vik’, answers patient questions relating to their condition, treatment and care. While the service currently only supports a number of chronic diseases their aim is to eventually support over 30 by the end of 2020. Because of its potential to both improve patient outcomes and the burden on hospitals and doctors, the start-up has already received millions of euros in funding. However, robotic companions can have benefits beyond medication reminders and questions. Research has shown that people with diabetes are significantly more likely to follow weight loss plans with a robotic companion to coach them compared with a desktop application performing the same function.
Recent years have brought an explosion in virtual reality (VR) technology. What was once prohibitively expensive is quickly becoming more affordable and available than ever. This has renewed the interest of researchers and healthcare professionals in its potential for improving the quality of life for patients with limited mobility. A review of published research on the efficacy of VR as a therapeutic tool reported that 98% of research showed positive outcomes for patients.
MIT start-up Rendever uses VR to bring experiences like walking the streets of Paris or scuba diving to aging adults and hospital patients living with limited mobility or chronic illness. They have found incredible success as patients living with dementia display renewed vigour and alertness while experiencing VR. The start-up has expanded its services, allowing family members of those living with chronic illnesses to take 360-degree cameras to important events like weddings. Using these tools, patients can remotely view the events in virtual reality. Even more incredible is that this can happen in real time as platforms like YouTube now support VR streaming, giving patients a sense of being present that could never be achieved using traditional photography and video.
Through the use of VR and virtual assistants, technology has the capability to significantly improve mental health and disease management of European patients, ultimately saving European healthcare systems billions of euros. This is especially true where these technologies are implemented to give patients immediate healthcare advice and relay information to doctors. Family members and patients do not need to wait for their healthcare services to support these systems, as personal assistants like Alexa are becoming very affordable and can provide many helpful features.
— Jennifer Poll is an American journalist.