The Healthcare sector is witnessing a plethora of transformations since the arrival of emerging technologies. There is an area that is still not much explored, and that is medical service access to disabled people. However, in the last decade, we have seen an introduction of Assistive Technology and associated tools that have been used in this sector to make disabled individuals perform their day-to-day tasks with ease.
Assistive Technology comprises mobility devices (wheelchairs and walkers), software, hardware, and other peripherals that can help people with disabilities in accessing digital technologies and computers. For example, blind people can use software that reads text on the screen in a computer-generated voice, people with limited hand functionality can utilize a keyboard with special keys or mouse for operating a computer, people with low vision can enlarge the screen content with a specific tool or software, and deaf people can use TTY (text telephone) facility to communicate.
Assistive Technology has been on a growing spree as it has helped enterprises to tap the customers who were unable to use their products due to certain levels of disabilities. Now they are upgrading the devices to cater to the requirements of their customers, that’s why the devices that once needed human interference have been transformed into automated ones, which makes it easy for people to avail the benefits of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things solutions in the healthcare domain.
What is Assistive Technology for Healthcare?
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Assistive technology is an umbrella term that covers the services and systems used to deliver assistive services and gadgets to disabled people. Assistive products improve an individual’s independence and functioning, thereby promoting their well-being. Gadgets like spectacles, Hearing aids, communication aids, wheelchairs, pill organizers, prostheses, and memory aids are all assistive products. As per estimates, more than 1 billion people use assistive products to perform their day-to-day functions.
As the population is aging and increasing cases of non-communicable diseases, more than 2 Billion people may need help with Assistive products by 2030. Assistive technology helps people to live healthy, stay productive and independent, and spend their life with dignity. Assistive technology also reduces the requirement of conventional health and support services, caregivers, and long-term medical care.
Assistive Technology is very important as without that, people are often isolated, locked into poverty, excluded from society, thereby it increases the impact of disability and disease on a person and their family.
Assistive Technology Classification
We have Thousands of Assistive technology devices in the world and many manufacturers are developing innovative Assistive devices. Hence it is important to have a robust classification system to ensure these Technologies and Tools are developed with adequate quality and build. To overcome these challenges, multiple classification systems have been developed to organize the Assistive Technology and Tools to a specific standard. Assistive Technology is broadly classified into 3 types of classification systems:
- National Classification System for Assistive Technology Devices and Services.
- The International Organization for Standardization’s classification of assistive products for persons with disabilities (ISO 9999).
- ICF-based classification (ICF/AT2007).
How is Assistive Technology improving the Healthcare Sector?
The healthcare sector has started making good use of different kinds of Assistive devices that work with other advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning. These Assistive devices have brought a lot of improvement in the healthcare sector; we have listed a few examples here for your reference:
It assists people to make movement within their environments by making some sort of modifications of vehicles such as canes, scooters, crutches, walkers, electric wheelchairs, etc.
Positioning and Seating Aids –
Such devices can help a person to adapt to the seating and maintain the right position. We have several types of wedges, cushions, standing tables, braces, and positioning belts, which fall under this category of stuff.
Daily Task Assistants –
Such devices consist of dressing aids, modified eating utensils, page-turners, pencil holders, adapted books, and adapted personal hygiene aids.
Sensory Aids Devices for Vision and Hearing Impaired–
These assistive devices can help people with vision and hearing impairment. We have visual alerting systems, hearing aids, a Braille system, digital magnifiers, speech/telecommunication output devices, and large print screens that can help people with such disabilities.
These assistive devices allow people to participate in social, cultural, and sports events. It contains controls for video games, a seating system for boats, cuffs for grasping the racquets and paddles, and an audio description system for movies.
Home and Workplace Modifications–
This is accomplished by making some structural adaptations, which can remove or reduce the physical barriers such as ramps, lifts, automatic door openers, expanded doorways, etc.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices-
These devices assist those people who wither have speech impairments or have the low vocal volume to communicate. It includes communication software, voice amplification devices, and speech-generating devices.
Orthotics and Prosthetics –
These can be utilized for the development or replacement of certain body parts such as artificial limbs or other orthotic aids like splints or braces.
Computer Access Aids–
These consist of alternative keyboards, light pointers, voice-to-text software, switches activated by sound or pressure, special software, and touchscreens.
Environmental Control System –
These devices help people to control other appliances such as TV, Telephones, or pushing the switches for devices. These devices could be activated by eyebrows, breath, pressure, and other gestures.
By such devices, it is proved why assistive technology is important for the healthcare sector. Over the years we have witnessed how assistive technology is changing the health care sector and this also shows the potential of this technology for the future.
Who Adopts Assistive Technology?
Assistive Technology has opened unimaginable opportunities for the healthcare sector. As we know that Assistive technology is an umbrella term, which includes assistive, rehabilitative, and adaptive devices for people with different degrees of disabilities. The domain is extremely rich, as far as potential opportunities are concerned, and it is awaiting the right mix of Assistive Technology and Tool to create disruption in the market.
However, if we talk about technology adoption, it depends on the kind of Technology, its User, and the type of Use case. Assistive technology has been used by the following organizations.
Almost every kind of business organization can utilize Assistive technology for their employees, to enhance their productivity and help them to carry out essential tasks. Organizations can utilize special writing and reading software, speech-to-text & text-to-speech software, Visual Scene Display platforms to enhance the efficiency of their employees.
Schools and Universities –
They can use Assistive technology to make general education and learning more affordable and accessible for disabled people. Hi-tech assistive devices can be programmed for usage in education classes to impart technical education to students having learning disabilities.
Job Training and Rehabilitation Centers –
Such organizations can easily adopt Assistive technology to train and help people get suitable jobs. Assistive technology not only eases the training process, but if we club it with AI and ML, then it enhanced the overall training experience and makes people aware of the market requirements.
State governments are indeed adopting Assistive technology to enhance the ambit of their Social Security and Veteran benefit program. Governments are providing Assistive products to their people once doctor prescribes it as an essential medical device.
Communication Sector –
With the help of Augmentative and Alternative Communication apps and embedded software, the communication sector can offer solutions to people, who are suffering from learning disabilities and cognitive illnesses (cerebral palsy, dyslexia, autism, ALS, and TBI).
Socio-Economic Benefits of Assistive Technology
When implemented effectively, Assistive Technology-enabled care can help us avail numerous socio-economic benefits. Here we have listed a few of the benefits:
- Service providers can use Assistive Technology and Tools to support vulnerable people and to make sure that they stay independently in their own homes for a longer period.
- It reduces the requirements of complex care and medical interventions.
- Improves user satisfaction and reduces the cost of treatment, as they are being treated at their home, without being admitted into the hospital or care centers.
- Enables remote health monitoring through technology, this has been observed during the recent COVID virus spread, where patients were treated remotely, and their health situation was improved with the usage of Assistive Technology. This reduced the exposure to the virus for not only the patients but the caregivers as well.
- Assistive Technologies create an intelligent system that can provide both preventative and predictive measures, to enhance and sustain expected health outcomes.
Challenges of Assistive Technology
Assistive Technology is gaining traction in the healthcare industry, but it comes with its own set of challenges. Here we have listed a few such challenges.
Lack of Policy –
You may not believe but very few countries do have a fully functional national assistive technology program or policy. In most countries, access to assistive technology is either non-existent or quite poor.
If we talk about Western countries, then they either rationed the assistive products or did not incorporate them within the ambit of their public health and welfare schemes, which leads to a high out-of-pocket payment by the patients and their respective families.
For example, in European countries, there is a state policy to provide older people with only 1 hearing aid. However, contrary to the policy the fact of the matter is that most people at that age usually need 2 hearing aids to perform day-to-day functions. Hence, we can say that lack of policy or botched-up policy is actually hindering the efforts to offer assistive technology to the masses.
Lack of Assistive Technology Products –
Assistive technology is still in the emerging stage and the associated industry is still in a nascent stage, which primarily serves high-income markets. This industry is mired with a lack of state funding, a robust service delivery system, research, and development setup, adequate quality and safety standards, an efficient procurement system, and effective and context-appropriate product design. All these shortcomings are impacting the evolution and acceptance of Assistive technology among people.
Lack of effective Service Provisioning –
In developed countries, Assistive services are usually not well integrated. People are forced to visit multiple locations and hospitals to avail the of Assistive services and devices, which makes it a costly affair for themselves and their caregivers. On the other hand, most of the low- and middle-income countries don’t have an effective service delivery system for assistive services and products.
The poor people remain dependent on charity and donations services to get assistive devices for themselves. NGOs and Charity organizations do supply such products, but they are mostly erratic, sub-standard, and used products. Such devices are usually not appropriate for use, may lack repair and support mechanisms.
Lack of trained healthcare professionals –
We need adequately trained health professionals, who can help with prescription, user training, device installation, and follow-up of assistive products. These steps are very much required to operate an assistive technology product without any hassles, and most importantly without causing any harm to the user.
For example, we need trained professionals to prescribe and install wheelchairs with pressure relief cushions, which can help people with spinal injuries. In event of any casual approach, while prescribing such a device to the user, it may cause an accident or some sort of discomfort to the user in long run.
Assistive Technology – Final Words
There is no doubt that Assistive Technology and Tools have changed the lives of millions of people across the world, and they are here to stay in the future due to their utility and the benefits offered. It is important for Assistive product developers to understand and analyze the requirements of customers with disabilities, then develop solutions to cater to their needs.
There have been several studies, which have assessed the positive impact of Assistive technology on the lives of consumers, healthcare cost, taxation, Insurance, and several other parameters. It has been proved beyond any doubt that Assistive Technology is a game-changer for the Healthcare sector, and it will only be going to gain the traction and confidence of the customers and healthcare providers in the future.
Satyam Chaturvedi is a Digital Marketing Strategist at Arka Softwares, a leading mobile app development company dealing in modern and futuristic web and mobile app solutions. He loves to spend his time in studying the market trends and helping startups and enterprises in achieving their business goals.