Monthly Archives

August 2019

Alexa can help make strides in telecare

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ALEXA, remind me to take my medication today. Alexa, I have fallen and I can’t get up – can you call for help?

The NHS in England has launched a collaboration with Amazon’s virtual assistant in a sign of social care to come. The service to be provided is the most basic – ensuring that when people ask for health advice, the information Alexa offers is verified by the NHS rather than plucked from the random depths of the internet.

This partnership is a first, small step but shows the way to how digital health and telecare will transform social care in the future. A virtual assistant is just one technology that can enable people to live independently in their homes for longer and at a lower cost to the National Health Service – which is already showing signs of being at financial breaking point.

But before we get there, Scotland will have to radically overhaul the infrastructure that underpins the social care system.

Currently Scotland’s 32 local authorities offer a range of adult care services spanning telecare alert buttons to residential care homes. But problems in the system are mounting, not least due to the spiralling costs of meeting the care needs of the UK’s ageing population.

The creaking of the social care system is revealed in statistics like the rising number of people forced to extend their stay in hospital because the facilities that would enable them to return to a much less costly home environment are overburdened and increasingly unavailable.

The backbone of a service that truly connects Alexa – or any other virtual assistant, sensor or video conference facility – to a social care support service will rely on the telecare system undergoing a transformation from analogue to digital. However, cash strapped local authorities across the UK have yet to adopt the infrastructure that will enable these systems to interact with, but also protect, a user’s data. The time is now for investment planners and policy makers to ensure the telecare system is fit for the future.

The enabler of this integration is the alarm receiving centre (ARC) which acts as the brain of the system. It ensures the person calling for help or support gets the right response – whether it is a fall or, depending on use of sensor technology, a change in vital statistics.

The digital ARC is also equipped to deliver video conferencing which will be the cornerstone of remote diagnostics and GP support for many remote areas of the country. This technology will also support carers – both formal and informal – in supporting users with complex needs like dementia.

In Glasgow, our company Communicare247 is developing a system incorporating motion detection and a range of home-based environmental sensors that are connected by our ARC in Dunoon and its Archangel cloud portal via a smart phone app. The project, supported by Glasgow City Council (GCC) and Innovate UK, has been shown to enable ARC staff, carers and family members to monitor the user in a system designed to ensure peace of mind as well as improve safety and response times.

This pilot study is among the first in Scotland that moves telecare on from the old-fashioned “red button”, improving functionality, security and safety all at the same time.

Alexa, is this how we will live independently for longer?

Analogue to Digital FAQ

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We know that the analogue systems will cease in 2025 but could you confirm the exact date please?

No. There is no precise date published and the OfCom site only confirm “by 2025”. The 2025 date is an absolute date for completion, it is not a date upon which the analogue change-over is effected to digital. Each provider has its own dates and schedule – see the link above. In reality, the core BT network system (managed by Openreach) operates an IP Core – previously known as BT21CN – and a number of it’s exchanges are already upgraded, so technically, switching is well underway. BT has also confirmed that it will not take any further orders for analogue lines from 2021 and others are operating to earlier schedules.

We presume that there are a number of companies who will be carrying out the ‘switch over’ and wonder if they all work in the same way.

The above is also true for the majority of alternative network service providers (eg Virgin and Talk-Talk etc) who have already upgraded their infrastructure to full-fibre digital systems.

For example, can we expect that the analogue system carry on working right up until the digital system is fully installed?

Regrettably no. Analogue systems are in essence rendered obsolete and indeed, some vendors will cease supplying analogue equipment in 2020.  This is due to the signalling issued by the analogue device.  An analogue signal, transferred over an analogue network, received by an analogue receiver (within the alarm monitoring centre) is perfectly capable of performing normally. However, no network provider can guarantee a fully analogue signal path due to the mixed infrastructure which now exists. Consequently, there is a very real probability that the alarm signal is ‘corrupted’ en-route to the Alarm Centre. This manifests in the Alarm Receiver system not being able to interpret the signal in order to recognise it as an alarm call.  This incidence of “call failure” is increasing.  Some systems have automatic retry capabilities which means that the device will make further attempts to redial. Some suppliers are advocating use of “terminal adaptors” which will convert signals at the box in your home, this is NOT recommended because the signal path cannot be guaranteed, and both the Swedish Government and Scottish Government advice is to avoid this at all costs.

Will there be a guarantee (on both software and hardware) in place following installation?

Yes. All equipment is supplied fully guaranteed and with 24 hour and 365 day support. Our SLA is unsurpassed with a full 2 hour service resumption guarantee and 99.998% service availability.

Can you estimate how long would it take to do the ‘switch over’ in an apartment of, say, 40 apartments?

On the assumption that this is a standard telecare system, then the install time is approx 1 hour per property. We will also conduct group or individual training while in attendance.

Will running costs be more/less than the current analogue system?

We would need to understand the full requirements first.  However, digital service packages are comparable to current analogue market systems.