Richard Haynes is Director at The Community Gateway, a community interest company that offers transformation support to the health and social care sectors by focusing on home care reablement and telecare. Richard is also founder of Gadget Hub, an innovative pop-up shop experiment that explored how life-enhancing technology can be promoted direct to consumers (business to consumer-style or B2C) in a retail setting. In this series of blogs, Richard discusses his experience of mainstreaming telecare and why he thinks life-enhancing technologies need the retail factor.

The right thing to do

First up, I would like to explain my conviction for why retailing telecare to consumers is not only commercially and economically sound, it is the right thing to do morally and ethically. So, let us look at the moral and ethical position. The case I present is that to truly mainstream telecare, we need to ‘normalise’ the experience and process alongside other consumer electronics. This is important because seeing telecare in a real shop or mall and experiencing the ‘category’ in the same ‘retail’ context goes much further towards being inclusive and mainstream than any amount of product design.

What I am proposing is an experience not unlike how the process for spectacles has been ‘domesticated’. Anyone who wears specs can testify that there is still room for proper clinical assessment, and as any optometrist can testify, it is still very much regulated to ensure the protection and safety of consumers. Staying with the specs analogy, there is also funding support through employee assistance (and employer tax relief) for heavy PC users and from the NHS for funding voucher schemes to people with either financial or medical justification.

Demographics and economics

According to an article in the Guardian, looking after the 15.4 million people with at least one long-term condition takes up 70% of the NHS’s £110bn budget, as well as £10.9bn of the £15.5bn spent on social care in England. Suppose the 15.4 million people with at least one long-term condition (LTC) have at least four friends or family, also affected to a greater or lesser degree through providing care and support. The UK population from the last census data is 64.1 million, so you could say almost everyone is affected in some way by LTCs!

Furthermore, according to Age UK, over a third of the UK population are above the age of 50 and, according to this presentation ‘Through Other Eyes’, they hold 80 per cent of the wealth. By 2083 one in three people will be over 60; and since 2010, spend for households that include an individual aged over 65 has risen from £109 billion to £120 billion per year. So at the very least establishing a better mainstream market for consumers of telecare, telehealth, and in general life-enhancing technology to a significant self-funding population should be something we are all considering and aspire for, at least for an aging population that wants to stay active, engaged and healthy.

An exercise in empathy

Not all of us, unless we are old and frail or have a disability, can truly appreciate what it is like to be on the receiving end of a telecare service, and in some cases ‘our’ own services or products we make, provide or support. We might understand parts of the process, but not the whole aesthetic experience in the first person sense. I would like you to imagine therefore your next mobile phone purchase. But not through your eyes and the experience you are probably familiar with. Here, you might search online and compare pricing and tariffs, perhaps visit a shop (or several), call your network provider’s customer retention department to negotiate a phone upgrade and discount on monthly charges, or speak to friends about their experience. By the way, I am not advocating that the phone industry is a ‘good practice’ model to follow simply that considering this model may get people thinking in a different way. The experience that I want you to imagine for obtaining your next mobile phone is akin to someone receiving a telecare service through the traditional experience that it is today.

This is not necessarily a representation of every service either, and nor is it a representation of any one particular service, as there are of course good services. It is not the system and process however that makes it good generally speaking but rather the people who work within them that makes it tolerable and sometimes good. So this is a comment on the system design not the people operating within. The scenario I will illustrate takes the extremes of each of its forms. Sadly though, it is not that untypical for many people receiving telecare, telehealth or community equipment in general. It serves however as a useful exercise in empathy – and why I believe we will struggle greatly with mainstreaming telecare through product design alone, and why it’s so important that we get the experience right for all people. It is my opinion that it is unfair and too simplistic to lay the blame for the lack of uptake of telecare at the doors of the manufacturers, for either reason of product design, or for lack of B2C marketing. Why would manufacturers not bid for contracts that are tendered in the way that these services are commissioned at present?

What next?

This is the first in a four-part series of blogs and in my next post I will present a scenario of purchasing your next mobile phone in a ‘parallel universe’ that in my mind draws comparison with how telecare is often accessed. I will then share my thoughts on what I found when I gave telecare the retail factor in shopping centres though the Gadget Hub, before finishing up with the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with my point of view but I am hoping these blogs might spark new conversations and get people thinking about the future and how we can improve access to life-enhancing technology.

Thanks for reading!

Richard @richardchaynes @tcg_cic