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Fear of AI in aged care (Part 2)

The aged care sector should not be afraid of technology that uses artificial intelligence, writes Mark Williams.


This article was also published by Australian Ageing Agenda.


In my previous article I referenced visions of Skynet AI wiping out human life in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator movies. Whether such movies featuring AI trigger people’s fears regarding this powerful technology or whether it’s a more basic fear such as losing employment to machines is debatable and it’s likely a mix of variables. However, what is beyond debate is that the fear is real.


Many in the aged care industry have a misunderstanding of what AI is, sometimes bordering on fear. However this is true of most new technologies. In the early 1800s people feared their bodies would melt or be torn apart if travelling on trains above 30 miles per hour.


To overcome such fears, those leveraging AI to provide support and care in aged care, such as PainChek CEO Philip Daffas, focus more on the outcome and supporting facts than the technology itself.


PainChek uses a smartphone and AI to better identify and manage pain in people who are unable to communicate, such as people living with dementia.


“Evidence-based publications indicate 43 micro-muscles in the face, nine of which are activated when pain is experienced. PainChek uses AI to identify whether these muscles are activated in order to assess pain severity levels,” Daffas says


It is similar for Graham Russell, CEO of HSC Technology Group, which uses senses to collect data and create alerts for care providers.


“I don’t use that terminology [AI] anymore because it does terrify people. I position it as ‘We cannot continue to spot check.’ We have sensors everywhere else, car temperatures and oil levels, fridge temperatures and motion sensors in alarms. It makes no sense to continue using manual labour for spot checking,” Russell says.

The challenge for many aged care leaders is to understand about technology in general and develop a strategy of what the technological future should look like for their organisation.

Some of the fear relates to staff being replaced by robots. This has been a concern every time new technology is introduced to a workforce. Invariably it leads to staff being retrained to work in other areas whilst removing them from exposure to tasks that create risk or error, leading to a safer working environment and better outcomes.


The outcomes in this case are quality of care. If staff have more time to speak with their aged care clients rather than performing basic tasks that a robot can do then surely this must be seen as a positive outcome.


Ryan Priest, chief technology officer of Alpha Global, thinks so. Alpha Global’s Digital Angel fall prevention solution uses AI to analyse people’s behaviours and provide alerts to careers. Enabling them to intervene and prevent falls from ever occurring.


“Tech is there to support staff, not replace. It’s a balance that must be found. Over time we will be able to lean more on tech than we have in the past and do today,” Priest says.


The future of AI in aged care

Fear can lead to a violent reaction against a theme, concept, policy or technology. And it can be bred by misunderstanding. Happily in the case of AI in aged care, while there are some who are terrified I believe their desire to improve care can lead to an overriding desire to understand.


Priest sums up the sentiment well. “The industry has been generally positive about AI. They know their knowledge around AI is limited and in our experience they are keen to understand more,” he says.


Such sentiment is positive however sentiment is of little value without action. The challenge for many aged care leaders is to understand about technology in general and develop a strategy of what the technological future should look like for their organisation.


If the goal is to ultimately use AI and other technologies to improve care and sustain operations a clear roadmap is required to enable an organisation to get there. This may be a five-year roadmap but without it the goal cannot be achieved.


Equally it is important that technology is not the primary goal. Technology will support the goals that focus on care and sustainability but technology adoption and change can be challenging so baby steps are required.

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