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Pervasive healthcare

This week’s piece of shameless self-promotion: a book chapter on how pervasive computing and social media can change long-term healthcare.

My colleague Aaron Quigley and I were asked to contribute a chapter to a book put together by Jeremy Pitt as part of PerAda, the EU network of excellence in pervasive systems. We were asked to think about how pervasive computing and social media could change healthcare. This is something quite close to both our hearts — Aaron perhaps more so than me — as it’s one of the most dramatic examples of how pervasive computing can really make an impact on society.

There are plenty of examples of projects that attempt to provide high-tech solutions to the issues of independent living– some of which we’ve been closely involved with. For this work, though, we suggest that one of the most cost-effective contributions that technology can make might actually be centred around social media. Isolation really is a killer, in a literal sense. A lot of research has indicated that social isolation is a massive risk factor in both physiological and psychological illnesses, and this is something that’s likely to get worse as populations age.

Social media can help address this, especially in an age when older people have circles of older friends, and where these friends and family can be far more geographically dispersed than in former times. This isn’t to suggest that Twitter and Facebook are the cures of any social ills, but rather that the services they might evolve into could be of enormous utility for older people. Not only do they provide traffic between people, they can be mined to determine whether users’ activities are changing over time, identify situations that can be supported, and so provide unintrusive medical feedback — as well as opening-up massive issues of privacy and surveillance. While today’s older generation are perhaps not fully engaged with social media, future generations undoubtedly will be, and it’s something to be encouraged.

Other authors — some of them leading names in the various aspects of pervasive systems — have contributed chapters about implicit interaction, privacy, trust, brain interfaces, power management, sustainability, and a range of other topics in accessible form.

The book has a web site (of course), and is available for pre-order on Amazon. Thanks to Jeremy for putting this together: it’s been a great opportunity to think more broadly than we often get to do as research scientists, and see how our work might help make the world more liveable-in.

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