Technology Strategy Board’s Assisted Living Innovation Platform

David Calder

In the not too distant future, an increasingly large ageing population will rely on shrinking numbers of economically active people to provide essential social and health care support. Health service provision will move toward the delivery of care closer to home. There will need to be an even greater use of technology to facilitate this shift, and to help develop people’s capacity for self-care.
The Technology Strategy Board has set up an innovation platform to ensure that an appropriate technological response is developed across all the contributing sectors within the UK. This is not only in recognition of the seriousness of the issue, but also the potential for wealth creation offered by a co-ordinated approach, bringing together industry, researchers, service providers, government and, of course, users.
Before the launch of the Assisted Living Innovation Platform (ALIP) in November 2007, stakeholders from industry, the Department of Health, academic institutions and user groups carried out a technology roadmapping exercise, led by Dr Richard Curry and Dr James Barlow of Imperial College London. This confirmed the potential of telecare and telehealth (ehealth) systems to help meet the challenges of future large-scale health and social care provision. Meanwhile, the Department of Health’s Whole System Demonstrator (WSD) programme is gathering data to complement the existing theoretical and anecdotal evidence concerning assisted living services. The WSD programme, though, is not considering technology issues. The ALIP works alongside WSD, providing technology improvements to support the accumulation of health-based evidence.
Historically, the technology for assisted living has tended to look ‘unfashionable’ and ‘unaspirational’. ALIP is funding research and development (R&D) – to the tune of £6 million over three years – looking at user-centred design of products and systems. This includes: the updating of technology from analogue to digital platforms; the use of existing devices such as TV set-top boxes for service provision; unit cost reduction; and the building-in of some aesthetic appeal.
ALIP will soon announce a further tranche of funding – £7 million – to support more far-reaching R&D into future systems (the so-called ‘distributed environment’). This time, ALIP is bringing together cutting edge knowledge from telecommunications with telecare and telehealth experts. The aim is to combine an end-2-end systems approach in communications with an end-2-end systems approach in assisted living – from referral and assessment, through user-centred service design, right through to response management systems. Other important areas are interoperability of products and systems, and the development of new standards to accommodate ‘plug and play’ functionality. The Continua Health Alliance is addressing standardisation issues, although it is not a standard-setting body. Output from these projects may assist interoperability.
The reasons for the relatively low-technology base and slow emergence of a clearly defined market relate to the absence of a business model for investment and the lack of cohesive market demand from health and social care services. The current funding and reimbursement structures are simply not geared up for assisted living. Future services will cross numerous lines of demarcation ‘owned’ by different statutory bodies. Industry is struggling to see how its potential new products and services can be accessed, and by whom, in this complex landscape.
Of course, the patient–user is central to the work of ALIP, but those who are responsible for administering, prescribing or seeking out and buying the future solutions should also be aware of, and able to influence, the activities and priorities of this important national programme. It will have a major impact on the future training of professionals and on their working practices.
The Technology Strategy Board’s Knowledge Transfer Networks (KTNs) have been used to spearhead structured knowledge transfer activity on behalf of ALIP. The Knowledge Transfer programme aims to ensure that all aspects of this complex and vitally important area are included in the development of real-world solutions, and that information is shared between all of the relevant stakeholders.
To learn more about ALIP, including forthcoming workshops, seminars or the 2010 annual conference, register with the Health and Technologies and Medicines KTN and take a look at the dedicated website for ALIP Knowledge Transfer, or contact the Technology Strategy Board. 
David Calder, Health Technologies KTN – Knowledge Transfer Manager for ALIP