Data risks when using IoT sensors that enable people to remain independent

Scott Arrol

October 14, 2020

Internet of things (IoT) and smart devices have long been touted as an important component of supporting people to live at home and independently, with peace of mind about their safety.  With the addition of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities the data that comes from these devices can provide alerts when there has been a change in a person’s usual activities for daily living (ADLs). 

The likes of carers, clinical care teams, family/whanau members and others can receive these alerts and notifications. Using passive real time monitoring this is able to provide continuous data to family, clinical and non-clinical carers and/or village operators.

In fact, anyone who has been granted access to the likes of a portal system can see a person’s daily activity and be involved in their monitoring and potentially, come to their aid. Providing proactive responses in this way can often make the difference to how long, or even if, a person recovers from an emergency event that has occurred in their home

Going further, the Covid-19 pandemic has also thrown up the possibility that IoT coupled with AI can be used to identify early symptoms through changes in ADLs, such as an increase in fatigue and changes to usual movements in the home that can indicate a decline in health.  Trials are being carried out to identify if this is possible and what would be required to make this happen on a larger scale. 

Of course, with technology almost anything is possible so the big question is more about the data that is derived from these devices, the security and privacy that surrounds it along with consents and who gets to see and use that data, and for how long that data might be stored?

Whilst we are chasing technology that enables us to protect those in our care better and more efficiently the importance of getting the balance right between monitoring, dignity, and the privacy of their data is not always easy.  For example, are we clear when family/whanau or caregivers can provide data or insights to clinical professionals for analysis?  

This is important as it is often the informal and formal carers that have the most access to these insights yet they aren’t able to easily feed these back into the system in such a way that real-time activity monitoring can be used in a non-intrusive manner. For instance, answering the ethical and legal questions related to the access and use of data in order for a person’s GP to make a remote assessment has huge potential to change the delivery of care.

There is no doubt that insights gained from collected data can lead to improved health outcomes.  What is becoming increasingly complex is knowing how we navigate the pathway between what this technology can do today and into the future, and how this translates into language that enables people such as seniors, those with long-term conditions, disabilities, mental health and many other health and social related issues to remain living as independently as possible for as long as it is totally safe to do so.

To hear experts talk on the topics of virtual health-telehealth go to the podcast “Digital Health Insights with Scott Arrol” and in particular the recent episode on telemonitoring with Mark Smith of Securely, a leading provider of secure devices and monitoring services across New Zealand.


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