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Bringing it all back home

 

In March, On Target reported on the i-House demonstrator: a model house used to showcase technologies for home-based healthcare at exhibitions. Now the i-House is a real house with a West Midlands address. On Target looks at a marketing breakthrough that is changing the landscape of healthcare technology.

How better to market technologies for home healthcare than in the home? The i-House in West Bromwich is designed to showcase new technologies for assisted living. With an eye to the ageing population and the shift of healthcare into the community, it presents sustainable and user-friendly innovations that combine the agendas of healthcare, security and sustainable housing for vulnerable members of society.

Not a showroom for products but a demonstrator that integrates a range of technologies from different sources, the i-House brings together ambitious ideas in a real context that can be assessed by user groups and customers in health and social care. In building a new paradigm for the home-based healthcare of the future, the i-House also demonstrates a potent new approach to healthcare marketing.

Safe as houses

Access to the i-House is via a keyless powered gate and door with a fingerprint reader and automatic lock. Lighting in the back-yard paving comes on after dark. The gate and door can be viewed on the TV inside, and the entry system defaults to an external service after 9pm. A voice welcome message on entry can be tailored with prompts. The door and gate can be opened by pressing a button inside the house.

The house knows who is inside at any given time. The integrated i-Cue system (from TECHNIK2 and Halliday James) controls lighting, monitors occupancy, operates an alarm and responds to emergencies signalled by smoke, CO and flood detectors. Other peripheral sensors or control devices can be integrated. The system responds to danger signals with voice prompts, then automatic calls to a neighbour or call centre.

An SMS text message receiver on the windowsill in the living-room can be used to switch appliances on and off. It can also monitor temperature changes and send a prompt to a carer or change the heating level automatically. Sensors in the windows can respond to air movement by turning down the heating. A small bedside unit integrates a radio, a heat sensor, control of the phone, and other sensor or control units; the clockface design allows buttons to be configured, and the unit can provide audible cues.

The aim of these systems is to help vulnerable people maintain their independence and privacy through accessible technology. There was previously no model for bringing these solutions together in one home.

A helping hand

The fixtures and fittings of the i-House are designed to support users of all abilities, including those with physical disabilities or dementia. Solutions of this kind can help people to stay at home for years when, previously, they would have needed to enter residential care. It also reduces the need for exensive alterations when the house is let or sold to a new occupant.

In the kitchen, an appliance monitor requires the occupant to log in with a fingerprint before using certain cooking appliances. A small tablet PC runs a memory prompt for kitchen tasks, e.g. “Take your ready meal out of the microwave. Pierce film lid three times.” The microwave uses special product bar codes to set the cooking levels and times. The sink has touch-control taps preset to an adjustable filling level.

The bathroom has a level-access shower with a pre-set temperature and one-touch controls. The toilet has a hands-free flush (from EcoLogic). There are handrails and ‘panic’ buttons. A heat exchanger uses heat from the bathroom to warm the house via a water heating pump – one of several energy-saving features of the i-House.

The lights can be manually switched (with radio switches) or remotely controlled via light sensors. The stairlift (from Minivator) is able to negotiate the curved staircase of the original house. An impressive feature is the compact throughfloor lift that connects the front room to the bedroom upstairs, but leaves the floor space free when not in use. The bed and its overhead grab pole (from Nexus DMS) can be adjusted electronically.

Two telehealth systems are displayed in the front room. A mobile phone-based vital signs monitoring system from Safe Surgery Systems sends data to the GP, using algorithms to identify abnormal readings and notify the GP of problems automatically. A desk-based monitoring system from TeleMedCare uses a PC and interface, allowing a range of peripheral devices to be integrated according to the needs of a family.

Where the health is

The i-House is a development of Medilink West Midlands’ i-Health initiative, which promotes the use of partnership, best practice and modern technology to support independent living.

The house was designed and fitted by MedilinkWM with funding from Advantage West Midlands, working with local medtech companies and Black Country Housing. The needs of the property were analysed by Erganova. In 2006, MedlinkWM worked with Urban Living to develop a design standard for sustainable inclusive living: the i-House is a direct application. The project was pulled together in 12 months.

The main goal of the i-House is to raise the profile of assistive technologies in healthcare and housing, and to showcase the capability of groups of medtech companies in the West Midlands. Recent visitors include national housing providers, MPs and MEPs, including two Under- Secretaries of State. The project is related to Government objectives on innovation, and has received a grant from the Technology Strategy Board.

As a marketing initiative, the i-House not only promotes medical technologies by demonstrating their feasibility and value in a realistic context, it also serves as a model of partnership and market-making strategies in the context of an evolving health and social care system. It brings medical technology home.

Rob Chesters, i-Health Network Manager for MedilinkWM, comments on this groundbreaking project: “The i-House has proved to be an excellent facility to showcase medical technology in the West Midlands in terms of assistive technologies and telemedicine. It’s drawing medtech companies, health providers and housing companies together to tackle the issues of assisted living.”

 

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