Technology Trend Watch: An Exclusive Interview with GE’s Bronwyn Medley

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 04 September 2012

Technology seems to be one of the hottest topic across elder care blogs these days. Our very own #ElderCareChat on the subject hit the Twitter trending list a few weeks back (review the recap here), and ever since, it seems the topic’s popping up everywhere.

That’s why this interview with Bronwyn Medley, a senior consultant with Intel-GE Care Innovations’ Enhanced Community Living Services team, is so timely. When we connected a few months ago, she and I talked about maximizing available technology in senior care settings.

Here’s some brief background on Medley, per CareInnovations.com:

“Bronwyn has more than 15 years of marketing experience, including product management, new product development, market research, cross-business programs, and strategic marketing. She joined GE Healthcare in 1997 and has over 20 years of experience in healthcare.”

Get a glimpse of our conversation as she tells us more about where we are and where we’re going, technology-wise…

Bronwyn Medley: Here’s an interesting stat from the Institute on Aging — 7 million Americans are serving as long-distance caregivers. Technology needs to be effective for this population!

Michelle Seitzer: Wow. That’s definitely a good motivator for developers and innovators. So what are some of the latest/current trends are in terms of home or community-based senior care technology?

BM: Independent living is becoming the new assisted living, and assisted living is new nursing home. That’s why we need technology solutions that can provide better care.

Business models are currently shifting from community settings to home settings. We’re also seeing new technology that enables coordination and tracking among professional and family caregivers, technology that is keeping seniors safe in their homes and in senior care communities.

Wanting to stay home as long as possible is definitely a dominant theme among seniors and caregivers, which is pushing a trend for technology that allows for safe aging in place. The changes in the real estate market have also fed the aging in place trend, as the ability to sell homes has certainly been affected.

Another trend is the openness to integration of technology: 90 percent of the people we’ve surveyed are willing to use technology if it helps them age in place. Most are willing to give up a little privacy and independence in exchange for safety and security (within reason). For example, consider a senior doesn’t want her adult children to worry about her living alone. There still has to be a balance of privacy; the kids don’t need to know how many times she’s used the bathroom that day.

MS: What technologies are currently available?

BM: There are a host of available technologies, and they essentially fall into four different sets of tools:

  1. Physical safety — for example, if the doors are locked and a senior has experienced a fall
  2. Staying socially connected, like social media or Skype
  3. Managing health needs, like new programs/software/apps that allow for direct connections to your physician
  4. Mental sharpening — programs/software/apps that arrest mental decline and regress/recover mental acuity

MS: What are some of the barriers to accessing that technology (for providers and consumers)?

BM: There are too many gaps. As of yet, there is no solution that “bundles” all of these technologies; there is not one “turnkey” solution. Other barriers include: cost, lack of coordination, and a lack of awareness/understanding about what’s available.

Technology by itself is not a complete care solution (it has to be integrated into a complete plan of care), though care models are evolving. Right now, technology solutions are mostly reactive, but they need to be more passive and “unintrusive.”

There is also the accompanying stigma about growing older, coupled with the fact that assistive devices are not sexy. Also, many seniors and caregivers would rather not have to rely on technology. In addition, there is a need for modular solutions, as care needs are not static. We need the technology to stay current with needs and adapt accordingly.

MS: What does the industry need to be successful (i.e. how can they reach/help more people)?

BM: The delivery of technology solutions is where things get tricky. Vendors need to promote and advocate technologies that help people age in place; health care providers need to make recommendations to clients, and spend more time in dialogue about other options to senior care communities.

People are seeking out information online, so there is a natural shift towards the use of technology. Word-of-mouth, internet advertising, and direct-to-consumer advertising are all ways to reach more people, and though the momentum is building, it still needs to be streamlined and simple to use (for both the caregivers and care recipients).

New technologies also have to be very cost-effective; over time, things will get bigger, better, and cheaper, hopefully. Right now, I believe we’re still on the cusp and haven’t hit the wave yet.

Also, the seniors most in need of remote care are the people who are most unable to use technology, so whatever is developed or adopted cannot always require interaction from the senior in order to make it work.

Care Innovations is dedicated to getting a solution for seniors to be able to stay at home. We’re working hard to develop fully integrated modular solutions that change with changing care needs, and ensuring that there is added functionality so things don’t become obsolete before they’re even fully utilized. (Catch up on the latest developments at CareInnovations.com.)

MS: How do you confront hesitation about using technology?

BM: What really drives adoption of technology is when it’s so cost-effective and easy to integrate. You and I would try an app if it’s at zero cost, so a minimal investment of time and cost — and the ability to meet more immediate needs — that is when there is a value proposition that’s so valuable that it’s impossible to not move forward and go through the difficulty. To give a personal example: my Dad’s in failing health, and Mom’s in a panic. She recently learned how to Skype and now I have been talking to her every day, guiding her through the process of installation and use.

Also, there are certain solutions that are only accessed after a crisis point, which makes technology harder to adopt. Again, this speaks to the importance of meeting the changing needs of seniors and caregivers in order for technology solutions to be most effective.

MS: What trends should we expect in the coming years in response to the growing need for more caregiver support (both at home and in residential care communities)?

BM: Integration into other health/mobile technologies will become very big in future. We need affordable solutions for changing the paradigm of how people age in place. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.

MS: What’s on the “wish list” (i.e. what types of new technology might be useful but isn’t out there yet?)

BM: I think a technology that “goes with” the senior (like a mobile phone), so that there wouldn’t be separate technology solutions when a person transitions from home to senior housing, would be very useful.

Thank you, Bronwyn, for taking the time to share your insights and expertise with Seniors for Living’s readers! We’re excited for what the future holds.


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