By Olivia R. Weidner, DHIT Global Intern | October 24, 2020
On Friday, October 23rd, 2020, the Digital Health Institute for Transformation (DHIT) hosted the second installment of Season 3 of the DHIT Frequency: “Cross-Border Synergy.” This season, DHIT is proud to be partnering with the government of Québec and the Hospital Center of University of Montreal (CHUM) in producing this webinar series. This collaboration will bring a broader, cross-border scope to the meaningful conversations surrounding digital health technologies.
Season 3’s lineup will include five episodes, which will occur biweekly. As COVID-19 continues to influence every aspect of our world, this virtual series seeks to maintain and strengthen connections across the global digital health community. From October 9th to December 4th, the DHIT Frequency will host executives and thought leaders from across healthcare, life sciences, social sciences, technology, and innovation to discuss the advances, opportunities, challenges, and barriers to digital health across the United States and Canada.
Each segment will be co-hosted by DHIT’s President, Michael Levy, and Kathy Malas, Associate CEO of Innovation and AI at the Hospital Center of University of Montreal (CHUM). The series will spotlight distinguished guests from across the ecosystem to discuss the state of digital health. Last week’s panelists included:
- Martin Ducharme, Director, Strategy and Business Development for AlayaCare (Canada)
- Heather Altman, Adjunct Assistant Professor for UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and Principal for Harmony Advisors (United States)
- Sylvain Giroux, Professor at University of Sherbrooke’s Faculty of Informatics and Associated Director of the DOMUS Laboratory (Canada)
The first installment of Season 3 centered on mental health in the digital age, an issue that is particularly relevant in the era of COVID-19. In this second installment, the focus shifted to the topic of aging in place. Aging in place is a complex issue that encompasses both the physical, structural components of care, as well as the social and emotional health of elderly individuals. The circumstances of the pandemic have brought about new difficulties for the aging population. For those in this at-risk age group, strict isolation has distanced them from loved ones and prevented engagement in the world beyond their homes. As we continue to navigate the world in the time of COVID-19, these new realities for our elderly population are important to consider.
Over the course of Friday’s webinar, co-hosts Levy and Malas explored the challenges and opportunities that exist in the domain of elder care, with insights from three distinguished panelists: Martin Ducharme, Heather Altman, and Sylvain Giroux. Ducharme is the Director of Business Development at AlayaCare, which is an organization focused on providing cloud-based software to help home health agencies manage care visits, virtual visits, and remote patient monitoring. Altman is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and also occupies the role of Principal at Harmony Advisors. Altman formerly served as VP of Community Outreach at Carol Woods Retirement Community, and today she is a full-time caregiver for her aging parents. Finally, Giroux leads the DOMUS Laboratory at the University of Sherbrooke, which focuses on cognitive assistance and medical monitoring for individuals with cognitive disorders, especially the elderly.
The conversation began with an overview of some of the major challenges of aging in today’s society. Altman identified the caregiver’s burden as a key issue:
“While an individual may have a few visits by home health, the benefits are limited and family members are expected to take on intensive, skilled medical care. It raises the question of what happens to those who lack adequate resources and support.”
“It is not possible to design a technology strictly within our lab. We’ve moved to a different design approach, one that includes both the caregivers and the elders themselves. Even elders with significant cognitive impairments are involved, from the start, in a collaborative design process.”
In light of the considerable cost of elder care, many individuals choose to take on the challenging role of caregiver for their aging parents. Altman herself has recently stepped into this position, and although her expertise has granted her some advantages in the process, she recognizes the many potential stressors involved. Caring for the elderly isn’t simply about sharing a living space; there are often medical needs such as wound or post-surgical care that become part of the caregiver’s responsibility. Altman thoughtfully acknowledges the added financial and technical burden of skilled medical care, and points out the shortage of home care providers capable of administering such care.
Ducharme sees the lack of home care resources as a major oversight. According to Ducharme, the funding philosophy of many health systems and payers tends to focus on value-adding solutions that exist in controlled environments like the hospital. However, it’s much cheaper to manage health proactively in the home; thus investing in home care could actually cut costs by reducing hospital readmissions and overall healthcare spending.
Still, home care is not without its limitations. Ducharme tells viewers that “the biggest misconception about home care is that the main issue is changing the location of care delivery. In reality, the challenge is how to build the care model into not only the home but also the lifestyle.” Integrating healthcare into the home environment is one thing, but weaving the care model into the daily lives of elders and caretakers is a trial of its own. Compounding these obstacles is the lack of available caregivers and the relatively low wages for geriatric care. Nonetheless, investing in and expanding home care remains a promising frontier for improving health outcomes.
Despite the numerous challenges involved in elder care, technology has brought about an abundance of real improvements and opportunities. Altman tells viewers that services like Amazon Prime have enabled her to access valuable caregiver tools to meet her needs, often at prices below $20. Giroux notes the promising reality that even people with severe cognitive deficits are able to incorporate technology into their lives in ways that enable them to age at home. Telehealth is another innovative approach that has had meaningful impacts on the elderly population; virtual visits allow elders to stay in their home while remaining connected to their care providers. These benefits are all the more valuable in the current moment, as elders and caregivers alike seek to maintain quality of life amid the restrictions of the pandemic.
An important consideration in the development of new technologies for elder care is user experience. In order for caregivers and elders to accept and adopt technological means, there must be a clear addition of value. Furthermore, especially for older individuals unfamiliar with the digital world, simplicity is key. It’s critical to create solutions that feel familiar, intuitive, and effortless. An approach with significant potential is what Giroux calls the collaborative design model. According to Giroux, technology alone is not enough; solutions must be developed in a way that integrates both elder and caregiver insight.
This collaborative approach involves interested parties every step of the way, adapting the user experience to the unique needs of each population. Moreover, Giroux emphasizes the importance of including specific training for both elders and caregivers in any technological application. By listening to and iterating on the demands of the consumer, this model facilitates the addition of real value through technological developments.
Moving forward, each of our panelists has a vision for what the future should look like. Altman hopes that people will begin to approach old age with the same level of thoughtfulness and preparation with which they approach other life stages. By planning for and accepting the realities of aging, the process may become less overwhelming. Ducharme wishes to see increased acceptance and accessibility of technological resources, as he sees technology as a powerful way of scaling elder care. Finally, Giroux hopes to see a continued alliance between elders, caregivers, and developers, as he believes solution development should be a joint effort.
DHIT thanks its guests for serving on the panel, and everyone who tuned in! If you were not able to catch last week’s webinar, check out DHIT’s Media page to see what you missed. For more information, see the latest edition of the DHIT Digest, and mark your calendar for Friday, November 6th for the next installment of the DHIT Frequency Webinar Series, which will cover Virtual Pediatric Care. You can register NOW for the episode here. Until then, stay safe, everyone!
- To view previous recordings, visit DHIT’s Media page here: https://www.dhitglobal.org/media/
- There are still sponsorship opportunities available! If your organization is interested in sponsoring the webinar series, please contact our Executive Producer at email@example.com.
The Digital Health Institute for Transformation (DHIT) is a non-profit education and research institute supporting organizations and communities through the process of digital health transformation. We collaborate with leading academic institutions, associations, and industry to cultivate talent and ecosystems with our immersive learning platform, harnessing real-world experiences that drive the adoption of next generation skills, emerging technologies, and mindsets needed to foster the digital health leaders and innovators of the future, today. For more information, visit dhitglobal.org.
ABOUT THE QUÉBEC GOVERNMENT OFFICE IN ATLANTA
The Québec Government Office in Atlanta opened its doors in 1978 to take advantage of the strong
growth of the southern United States. In addition to defending and advancing Québec’s interests, the mandate of the Québec Government Office in Atlanta is to develop and promote economic, political and institutional ties with the seven states in the region, that is, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. It also contributes to the activities of the Southeastern United States – Canadian Provinces Alliance (SEUS-CP), of which Québec is a founding member.