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AI can provide aged care greater choice and control (Part 1)

Artificial intelligence-supported technologies are bringing the aged care sector levels of capability for improved care previously considered impossible, writes Mark Williams.


This article was also published by Australian Ageing Agenda.


When you mention artificial intelligence (AI) to many they have visions of Skynet AI wiping out human life in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator movies. However the reality of AI for the aged care sector can actually be the prolonging of an improved quality of life.


The healthcare industry as a whole is notorious for lagging behind many others when it comes to the adoption of technology. And aged care is even further behind. Adoption of AI is consistent with this.


However, there are some positive advances in the development and adoption of AI in aged care paving the way for wider understanding and acceptance. As aged care leaders improve their understanding of the real life benefits AI can provide both the aged and aged care organisations, it is inevitable that adoption of AI will grow exponentially.


What is AI?

The concept of AI was recorded in reasonable detail by Alan Turing back in 1950. Yes, the Alan Turing who was instrumental in cracking the Nazi’s communication codes to help end World War II.


Turing wrote of a simple test that could determine whether a machine should be considered intelligent. If a human could have a conversation with a machine and not be able to distinguish it from a human being, Turing submitted that a machine should be considered intelligent.


While the term artificial intelligence conjures up visions of a future well beyond the world we live in now for many, AI is very much here now. AI is used by many industries to improve levels of service and achieve business outcomes that would otherwise be impossible.


While some uses of AI relate to companies crunching data and customising communications with customers, it is also being used by other consumers every day. For example:

  • Netflix uses AI to recommend personalised content to subscribers

  • Google, Amazon and Apple use AI known as natural language processing for voice assistant systems Hey Google, Siri and Alexa

  • Tesla and other smart car manufacturers rely heavily on AI to guide self-driving cars on the road.

However, artificial intelligence is a much debated term. Those examples above would largely be categorised as basic AI, where the use of a computer provides basic analysis of data to assist with decisions.


Stronger definitions of AI fall more into most people’s science fiction understanding of AI, aligning with the concept of self learning super intelligence. At this time that strong definition is understood to be theoretical however with each year of development the technology moves further in this direction.


Confused? Fair enough. For the purposes of this article we won’t debate the specifics of AI, machine learning or deep learning. Let’s just understand that AI is essentially a computer doing very complex equations very quickly and far quicker than any human ever could.


In doing these equations, the computer can crunch volumes of data and provide information, trigger automated responses or recommended actions in response to the situation or events being analysed by the data.

The reality of AI for the aged care sector can actually be the prolonging of an improved quality of life.

According to IBM, “Artificial intelligence leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.”


My discussions with operators in the aged care sector have demonstrated a significant misunderstanding of what AI actually is. Many believe that simple automation or a digital workflow is AI. It’s not. That is yesterday’s technology.


Alpha Global’s Digital Angel fall prevention solution uses AI to analyse people’s behaviours and provide alerts to carers. Enabling them to intervene and prevent falls from ever occurring. Ryan Priest, chief technology officer of Alpha Global, agrees that “AI in the Aged Care industry is very much misunderstood.”


However, there are those in the industry who are getting their heads around AI and its significance. When asked what AI in aged care meant to her, Tracy Gibson, CEO of Prom Country Aged Care said: “Using data smarter to enable better care.”


Why is AI important for aged care?

Whilst the specific definition of AI may be debated, what seems clear is that AI-supported technologies are entering the aged care sector and bringing with them levels of capability for improved care previously considered impossible.


In an industry with growing expectations in quality of care, without commensurate increase in funding the only way to address this imbalance is through using technology. Priest says: “AI can provide residents greater choice and control. For operators, AI enables greater control of resources which means a drop in operating costs and more investment in care to help address loneliness and depression.”


Professor Arik Eisenkraft, vice president clinical and regulation of smart vital signs monitoring solution vendor Biobeat, says: “AI enables your platform to sort and analyse data and prioritise alerts which in turn support clinical care responses that would be impossible without such advanced technology.”


Being able to rely on AI can also remove the subjective biases that every human injects into decision-making, says Philip Daffas CEO PainChek, the company behind the smart pain assessment technology of the same name.


PainChek aims to better identify and manage pain in people who are unable to communicate, such as those living with dementia. It uses AI technology and a smart phone camera to analyse pain-indicating micro muscles in a person’s face. This assessment is combined with observational assessments to create a score to determine the likely severity of pain so it can be treated accordingly.


“People create their own bias, normally unconsciously, when assessing people’s levels of pain. PainChek removes these biases from the most complex part of the assessment,” Daffas says.


HSC Technology Group collects data from a range of sensors to create alerts for care providers. Graham Russell, CEO of HSC, says they are partnering with CSIRO and Amazon Health in an approach to AI that combines individual data analysis with group data.


“If an 83-year-old woman has underlying health conditions of A and B. And the AI also knows that next week there are forecast to be environmental conditions of X and Y. The AI can tell us that this will lead to a certain probability of a negative outcome without preventative management of the situation. It can even suggest to us what that management should be.”


The weight of positive evidence regarding AI seems overwhelming. But what about fear? Most new technologies are accompanied by fear. Some justified, some seemingly ridiculous with the benefit of better understanding. In my next article of this topic, Fear of AI in aged care, I’ll examine some of the fears that accompany AI.



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