Digital healthcare revolution relies on new form of tablet

A new health initiative for elderly people is being rolled out

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: March 31, 2014



The internet could spark a home health care revolution – and it’s being planned in the West Country.

A group of health professionals, ‘telehealth’ equipment makers, care providers and older people, are working together to see how tablet computers can be used as hubs to monitor vital health information, and reduce isolation.

But with figures from the Office of National Statistics showing that 6.7 million adults in the UK have never used the internet, 547,000 of them in the South West, more needs to be done to help people understand the internet and get online.

Today (monday)sees the launch of Spring Online, one of the year’s biggest digital inclusion campaigns, run in association with Carphone Warehouse. Free internet taster events will be available all week, including Saturday at libraries, cafes, community centres, shops, churches and housing estates across the country.

Digital Unite, which runs the campaign, says the good news is that tablets and smartphones are already helping older people realise how the internet can enrich their lives – bringing opportunities to keep in touch with friends and family, access the services they need and save money.

A recent YouGov survey found that 35 per cent of tablet owners in the UK are aged over 55 years. For the first time in the campaign’s 13-year history, more than half of all Spring Online events this week will offer help and tuition in using tablets.

Tony Watts, Somerset-based chairman of the South West Forum on Ageing and a member of the tablet health care hub project, said: “The problem building up is that so many of the things important to our lives are now being driven online – advice, support, information and – increasingly entertainment. Anyone on the wrong side of the digital divide will have to pay more for their energy, and they’ll find it much harder to track down the best bargains, book tickets or keep in touch.

“And while a screen can never be a substitute for real contact, they are also missing out on the opportunity to Skype with their friends and relatives around the world – helping to reduce the isolation and loneliness that so many suffer. So encouraging, rather than forcing, more older people to join in has to be a priority for society.

“But how? We know the barriers – cost, complexity and relevance to people’s lives. More now has to be done to break down these barriers.

“A lot of money has been spent over the years trying to encourage people to go online, but most of it – in my opinion – has focussed on the wrong areas: training people to use Word, or showing them how to email. Worse still, the default equipment is a PC – and most PCs are still very daunting if you have had no experience of them.

“The way forward has to be enabling and supporting people to use tablets: simple to pick up, attractive to look at and intuitive to use. I attend meetings now with seniors and half of them are taking notes or referring to material on their iPads.

“I believe the next stage in digital inclusion would be to integrate the internet with telehealth and telecare.

“If those wanting to remain independent in their own homes were supplied with a tablet that could be used as a hub for carers to monitor vital information – such as their blood sugar or oxygen levels, whether they had got out of bed, or fallen, drunk enough fluids – it would save lives and save money. It would also play a huge role in reducing isolation – which itself is seriously bad for people’s physical and mental health.

“And by enabling it to be used to Skype, watch programmes on iPlayer or favourite old films or songs on Youtube, the users would soon start to be comfortable with the technology.

“A pipedream? Not at all. Here in the West a group of us – health professionals, telehealth equipment makers, care providers and older people themselves – are working together, looking to take a national lead and make this a reality.”

Ruth Richards, who has run laptop, tablet and iPad learning classes for over 55s for Age UK Bristol for four years said: “We are relaxed about how much we cover in the classes, it’s more important that people can ask questions and try out ideas at their own pace, we provide comprehensive notes for later use.

She added: “We have helped 500 people already and are getting more and more through the door. The oldest person to learn was aged about 87, and took to it very quickly, and we are also running courses for people specifically affected by dementia.

“There is a lot of research on how reminiscence therapy can help, and being able to bring up photographs on an iPad can play a part.”

Find your nearest Spring Online event at or by calling 0800 77 1234