( Picture from the Aarhus Eldertech Study)
Recently I was invited to participate in a meeting preceding the start up of a special line of bachelor education at the University of Southern Denmark focusing on Welfare Technology. It seems to be the first university level education aiming specifically at welfare as a technological focus area.
This topic has gained increasing clout during the last couple of years, backed by the Danish Technological Institute, medical organizations and larger cities like
It is expected that this represents a new growth area for Danish Industry and could play an important role, particularly to meet the growing need for health and care personnel as a result of the ageing population. Checking the origin of the term on the net, I found that the first mentioning of Welfare Technology to my astonishment was actually a project, were I had participated as advisor: In 2006 the Danish Technology Board started a project called ‘New Technology for Elderly Care’. In this project we tried to distinguish between technology which is merely focusing on saving physical labour and technology, which actually supported elderly and/or handicapped persons with control of their own (chronic) disease, physical environment, increased mobility and better social contact. It seems that this distinction between objectives has been generally accepted.
In 2007 almost when the Danish project was being finalised, EU launched a program for funding joint initiatives within the member states and associated states called Ambient Assisted Living, clearly focused on elderly. As commissioner Viviane Reading stated at the start of the project:
"There is no reason for older people in
At this point 2 calls for proposals have been conducted: The first in 2008 focusing on “ICT based solutions for Prevention and Management of Chronic Conditions of Elderly People” and the second round this year with a focus on: “ICT based solutions for Advancement of Social Interaction of Elderly People”. One might expect rather narrow sighted projects to come out of these specific objectives, but looking at for instance the Persona project from the first call, it doesn’t seem to have influenced the project partners, and the Persona project is really a holistic type of project trying to take the various aspects of self-managing and personal control as well as social inclusion into consideration. The city of Odense and the Danish MEDCOM organisation are very active here.
But welfare technology has more actors than the handicapped/elderly persons and their relatives: If technology is deployed to increase the living conditions and diminish effects of chronic diseases and variations in health, it has to be seen in context with the entire health community and the services related to it – potentially embracing all the players in the field.
In order to make a technical proof for this type of technology and the need for an IT infrastructure behind the gadgets and measurement equipment, IBM DK has participated in a number of projects trying to test both the validity of the technology as well as the infrastructure – and not least: together with the caretakers and the users find out if the interfaces was understandable and if the technology was seen as a help. One of the first projects of this kind was the Eldertech project with the city of Aarhus. (Or download brochure describing the project ).Also the
A new organisation has seen the dawn of light in
This organisation has municipalities, service providers as well as technology providers as members and are 100% dedicated to welfare technology and projects around it.
So it seems that the level of activity in Denmark is very high, and I expect one of the reasons behind this is the timing of the administrative reform, where 275 municipalities were merged to a mere 99 but with an increased responsibility for health care and for people suffering from chronic diseases.
But we are still in the early days – we need to take the positive experiences from the first small scale projects and expand them to a much larger group of citizens. At the same time we need to have a set of recommendations for investment in Welfare Technology: It may be all right to introduce an artificial seal for people suffering from Alzheimers and to introduce the WII game to keep people active, but the real challenge will be to create the tru infrastructure for gradually adding new services and gadgets as technology evolves.
For that we need a set op open standards – as the international CONTINUA alliance is aiming at, and we need to have Danish Software providers and manufacturers to work together to create an open, yet secure set of framework and building blocks. The Danish organisation for Open Source Vendors, OSL, has engaged in an initiative to engage manufacturers of Welfare Technology to apply open source based SW as well as open interfaces. This initiative will lead to seminars and networks with members of the Danish Industry – and possibly also manufacturers and providers from other countries. For those interested, pls. send a note to OSL at firstname.lastname@example.org and you will receive further information.