Innovation

The 'senior cyborgs' are coming: How tech is changing what it means to grow old

At the Louisville Innovation Summit, healthcare experts discussed the 'disruptive digital health industry' that is transforming how healthcare reaches the aging population.

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Panel, from left to right: Charlie Hillman, founder and CEO of GrandCare Systems, Norrie Daroga, CEO and founder of iDAvatars, Richard Staynings, cybersecurity expert at Cisco, Laura Mitchell, consultant.

Image: Hope Reese/TechRepublic


At the third annual Louisville Innovation Summit on Monday, a panel of health and tech experts discussed new ways that tech is changing how healthcare is delivered for seniors.

The session, called "Senior Cyborgs and the Rise of Digital Health," included Charlie Hillman, founder and CEO of GrandCare Systems, Laura Mitchell, consultant, Norrie Daroga, CEO and founder of iDAvatars, and Richard Staynings, cybersecurity expert at Cisco. The group focused on how the older adults can use digital tools to report data—that will then be used by healthcare providers.

Daroga's company uses digital avatars to sensor emotions, determine locations, and pick up body vitals, among other data points.

"The US is about 10 years behind the rest of developed world in [its] approach to telehealth and telemedicine," said Staynings, "which is a more efficient way to deliver care to older adults." The payer model, he said, is "1940's based—very out of date." Pay-by-performance, in which doctors are rewarded for having their patients reach certain health goals, rather than simply by the visits or procedures performed, is not yet widely implemented.

Telehealth is critical, he said, because it transforms the relationship between doctor and patient. Getting digital consultations, for example, is a major benefit for seniors, who may be stranded at home. It can also be vital in situations where an aging population may be stuck because of natural disasters, like a hurricane.

So if we know the tech works, why isn't it seamlessly integrated into senior living facilities, hospitals, etc.?

"There are strong forces against changing established business models," Hillman said. "It's hard to change what's been working for businesses."

Daroga agreed. "The existing incentives can be difficult to overcome, if they're taking over a revenue source," he said, "even if the new model provides a savings."

Another obstacle, the panelists said, is that healthcare isn't just about a cool new invention—it's about providing value to patients. A lot of what techies want to build, they said, may not really work in practice.

SEE: AI app uses social media to spot public health outbreaks (TechRepublic)

But another obstacle to implementing tech in the homes of the older adults is security. "The industry needs to embrace this," said Staynings.

"Healthcare is 20 years behind financial services, in terms of cybersecurity," he said.

Daroga said that a big component in the safety picture is how people use tech—and healthcare is a very labor-intensive industry. "The weakest link is humans," he said. It's about securely setting up WiFi, using devices properly, not downloading any information that could be harmful.

"When you have the wrong behavior," he said, "it's hard to have technology overcome the hurdles."

Businesses should also look at how different applications fit into their security architecture.

The important thing to remember, said Hillman, is that "tech doesn't change the process."

"If people don't embrace it," he said, "it's likely to fail."

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About Hope Reese

Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.

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