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Prototyping the future of health care

Nyhet   •   Jan 08, 2010 13:02 CET

‘Helping Hands’ - A glimpse into the future of Integrated Health Care.

After over 40 years of pioneering work in the Life Science industry, Stockholm-based Ergonomidesign have been working for the past months to put together their take on the future of Life Science. Their story comprises not only scenarios and a clear picture of the eco-system in which Life Science might exist (in 2015) - but they have gone as far as prototyping glimpses of how interaction might occur with doctors and other medical professionals and services. The future concept and prototype was developed by the Life Science team at Ergonomidesign including user experience and interaction designers, design strategists, graphic designers, developers and health care professionals. Their challenge was to envision the future of Life Science and develop possible solutions for the world to test, use and reflect on.

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The future of Health Care is a subject that has aroused intense speculation recently across different forums. Several interesting scenarios and points of view have been discussed. Professionals and designers alike have tried to make sense of a fuzzy future. Predicting possible futures for the health care industry is an ambitious task, fraught with great risk. There are far too many disparities in various global health care systems today that make it impossible to present one comprehensive solution that fits all. The industry is constantly affected by Government legislation, making their rate of development impossible to predict in isolation from external factors. Most importantly, health care is about us - ordinary people - for whom tailoring one universal solution is out of question.

Healthcare in an age of ubiquitous computing.

The Integrated Health Care scenario - ‘Helping Hands’ is set in an urban context, sometime around the year 2015, when ubiquitous computing is truly ubiquitous. In a world where (a lot more) embedded sensors and microprocessors gather data in real-time about our lives. This data is stored as ‘actionable information’ in the Cloud (a metaphor often used to describe the future Internet). These sensors would exist in accessories we wear, similar to what Nike+ does today. This invisible matrix of computers worn, carried and embedded around us - will truly free us from the shackles of desktop computing. We will use mobile and ambient devices to access and manage data, anywhere at any time. Access to our personal and shared data is optional, and selectively granted by us for our mutual benefit.

The ‘Helping Hands’ scenario and software application revolves around two personas - Bernard and Hannah.

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Bernard is a 48 year old banker from New York. Like most others in his profession, his work involves stressful long days, countless meetings and a constant need to stay connected to his network. A few years ago he had little time to spare for managing his health. Bernard’s reckless approach to life - excessive stress, little exercise and fast food had almost resulted in disaster for him some years ago. He developed acute Coronary Arterial Disease (CAD). Doctors warned him that if the condition was left untreated it would result in devastating consequences for him. Fearing a stroke or possible paralysis, over the past few years a concerned Bernard had taken control of his health using the latest services and products. These are available to him by the health care service provider - ‘Global Heart Corp’, one of many providers offering health services and treatment in 2015.

By using the ‘CAD-Treatment Service’ - Bernard prevented his illness from slipping out of control.

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What is a medical treatment service?

In 2015, health care service providers (HSPs) are strategic, government-aided mergers of hospitals, pharmacies and professional medical networks, tasked with providing better care and health for citizens to use and subscribe to. Most HSPs have also merged with internet service providers (ISPs) allowing HSPs easier access to the benefits of the Cloud. The ‘CAD Treatment Service’ is a typical ‘medical-service’ in 2015. Bernard’s doctors use his health stats to prescribe a custom-coded, custom-manufactured ‘CAD device’ which Bernhard purchases from a pharmacy nearby. Along with the product he buys, he also subscribes annually to the service to renew his contract.

The CAD service, out of the box, consists of a tiny elliptical device which feels soft and comfortable to the touch. Bernard clips it to the inside of his clothing, so that it is in constant contact with his skin. The CAD device consists of the elliptical device with a customized software application for Bernard’s CAD condition. The surface of the device comprises millions of nano-hairs which not only detect pH levels and other critical factors in his blood, but also dispense prescribed doses of medicine to Bernard depending on his status, mood, stress levels etc.

Once worn, the nano- sensors in the CAD device perform periodic routine checks to monitor Bernard’s vascular biometric data. The CAD app then synchronizes the custom software to his mobile devices automatically - giving him, his doctors and medical social networks (the ones he chooses) access to his vascular data through multiple kinds of computing devices.

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Bernhard uses his device or embedded computers on smart surfaces to connect to to renew his subscription for the CAD Treatment Service offered by the “Global Heart Corporation”. Bernard’s CAD Treatment Service keeps him in constant reach of his detailed directory of doctors, fellow patients, medical prescriptions and other daily health care programs such as diet and exercise.

Over the past years of recovery, Bernhard has gained vital knowledge about heart conditions and he has developed valuable relationships with cardiac specialists like doctors, dietitians etc. This information turns out to be invaluable to an old acquaintance - Hannah.

Health, information and recovery at your fingertips.

By the year 2015, desktop computers as we know them today will probably be relics of the past. Rapid advances in screen technology and the diminishing size of microprocessors will make it possible to invent new archetypes for the computer, coupled with new gestural and semantic languages. In an age of ubiquitous computing, our walls, tables and other elements in our environment will become platforms for us to interact on. This interaction will involve access and manipulation of information, exchange and generation of data, most importantly; these interactions will involve people connecting with people on an information superhighway in the most serendipitous ways. The simple act of placing your hand on a table would trigger the most enlightening experiences, if called upon to do so.

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We are now zooming in on one such serendipitous interaction at a dinner at Bernard’s place with an old acquaintance, Hannah, as one of the guests.

Hannah is a 51 year old journalist living in Paris. She has a demanding position at her company which involves a relentless amount of travel including long hours of sitting still and rich, fatty food. Hannah has always thought of herself as a healthy person; she loves going for long walks at the weekend and she enjoys making delicious dinners for her family and friends.

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To stay healthy despite her stressful life, she takes care of herself by using a “General Health” (GH) Service that she has bought from the “Integrated Health Care Store”. Much like the CAD Treatment Service, the GH Service monitors Hannah’s basic biometric data - pulse, oxygen levels, tidal breath and blood pressure. The service helps to guide her toward a healthier lifestyle in terms of food habits, nutritional advice, a personal training service, advice on vitamins etc. In recent months Hannah sensed that something might be wrong with her. She has been constantly fatigued, short of breath and has felt frequent palpitations.

One evening Hannah meets Bernhard at his dinner party. Over casual post-dinner conversation, Hannah and Bernhard decide to connect and compare biometric data on Bernard’s smart table. Their connection is spontaneous and effortless. It is initiated by the reading that the smart-surface at Bernard’s home gets of both their biometric data by simply placing the palm on the surface. Digging deeper into the connection interface, Hannah discovers that the biometric data generated by her body, especially her blood, match those of Bernard’s from 5 years ago when he was diagnosed with a CAD-problem. She is alarmed at first, as she realizes that her worst fears are coming true.

However, since this crucial information about her impending CAD problem found its way to her at an early stage, it gives Hannah precious time to act and prevent the condition. It is at this point in the interaction between Hannah and Bernard that the latter’s years of experience, networking and knowledge come to Hannah’s rescue. By instantly sharing knowledge and contacts with Bernhard, Hannah quick-starts her treatment for future potential CAD and increase her chances of preventing future serious cardiac disease.

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The process of recovery begins before they have even finished their dinner, by contacting the right professionals to address the problem followed by the appropriate treatment. In this scenario of the future, Hannah is able to take responsibility for her health not only into her own hands, but stands on the shoulders of others in a similar state to get better. Disease is isolated at the root, and dealt with immediately - rather than dealing with the frustrations of 2009 where you queue for hours in the emergency room once a problem has already escalated out of control.

The experience envisioned by Ergonomidesign comprises illuminating scenarios, personas and a working prototype that was developed by interaction designers, design strategists and graphic designers. Their challenge was to envision a complex future and to develop user friendly, intuitive solutions for the world to understand and use. They have created an experience that combines intuitive gestural interaction with well-resolved service scenarios for the Health Care industry. Ergonomidesign hope that ‘Helping Hands’ will inspire thought and discussion about a world where staying in great shape and avoiding illness can actually be within reach anywhere and anytime.

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