Julia Scott, CEO of the College of Occupational Therapists talks about how new technologies can be used by occupational therapists to help improve people’s lives. 

The “Robots are Coming!” is a phrase I have often used when talking to members about the future of healthcare and having visited Tunstall’s innovation centre I think they may well be with us very soon!

I was invited to visit Tunstall’s Response and Innovation centres after a “chance encounter” at last year’s party conference and I am very glad I did. The visit opened my eyes to the potential of new technologies in supporting people to live independent lives and manage their own wellbeing.

I’ve always been something of a technophobe, but the visit swiftly bought me up to speed on what the new tech can offer and how simple it can be to deploy within domestic environments. Much of what they are developing will be of interest to occupational therapists. When I was in a clinical role the provision of “environmental controls” was complex and very limited, but the new innovations that Tunstall are working on demonstrated to me that smart homes are the future and will be part of all of our lives.

The application of new technologies can significantly enhance the independence and daily lives of vulnerable people. Many of the products are already in use and are both labour saving and quality of life enhancing; products in development will deliver even greater independence, safety and peace of mind. It’s clear to me that occupational therapists must develop their knowledge and expertise about these new technologies so that they can recommend them as solutions to daily living difficulties, and we need to develop this area of expertise swiftly.

The Response centre, which provides personalised responses to those using monitoring services from Scotland down to Guernsey was astonishing. Whilst there I witnessed call handlers dealing with frail, emotional people who had contacted them for help. The professionalism and compassion exhibited by those taking the calls was exemplary, the IT system that logs calls and records actions that follow, was efficient and user friendly and the whole set-up was well managed and led. I know that if someone I cared for relied on a monitoring service I would personally be very reassured that they were in safe hands. More than the monitoring service, Tunstall also offer a Telehealth system which enables individuals to personally manage their daily health checks at home, and more importantly, flags up results of concern or a gap in observations. When this happens the staff are able to contact the individual or their health care professional and either find out what is happening or else raise a concern regarding the individual’s health status.

What particularly struck me, was that these were technology-enabled systems that delivered a personalised service to those that relied on them.

So whilst the Robots may be coming, I am less fearful that this means a dehumanised service and am much more likely to welcome them into my home as an effective and efficient part of the system that enables me to manage my health and wellbeing, to stay safe, and to bring reassurance.

Thank you to all those I met on my visit for allowing me the opportunity to increase my awareness and knowledge about the brave new world of Telecare and Telehealth.