On 11 September, EPHA attended a public hearing hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and active ageing. Speakers included the Secretary-General of the European Federation of Retired and Older Persons (FERPA), the First Secretary of the Mission of Japan to the EU, and experts from the EESC, Eurfound, and the think tank ’Pour la Solidarite’.
The hearing was organised as part of the 2012 European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations and follows the Council conclusions of June this year. It concentrated on areas where ICT can be used to enable elderly people to remain active, participate in society and access key services.
Presentations focused on the use of ICT in democratic systems to facilitate participation in referendums; polling and the provision of eGovernment services; the use of ICT in the workplace and how this affects older employees; the importance of innovation in designing software and technologies that can easily be used by elderly people; the importance of networking and communication for social inclusion; ICT as a service of general interest (SGI); and trial programmes and pilot studies of ICT used in neighbourhood services. A presentation was also given by the First Secretary of the Mission of Japan to the EU, Koji Ouchi, who outlined the various ICT initiatives already being implemented and utilised in Japan – these include telemedicine, electronic health records, and the utilisation of ‘smart TV’.
An interesting set of comments was also made by the representative from DG Connect (previously DG INFSO), who was in the audience and responded to concerns about the negative outcomes of digital-exclusion from the increasing employment of ICT: "technology is neutral – it is the way in which a technology is used that produces a given outcome, and suitable policies are therefore needed to accompany use," stated the European Commission’s representative.
Some more health-relevant points are summarised below:
• The electronic health record is being used widely in Japan, but the country’s First Minister noted that authorities were still having difficulty ensuring security of the system and, consequently, persuading citizens that it can be trusted as a health tool. The representative from DG Connect added a point about the political adoption of electronic health records (EHRs). He said that having met with colleagues from the United States, he learned that when they were trying to bring the issue of EHRs onto the political agenda, they collaborated with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the federal organisation for the over 50s, instead of the health professionals or hospitals, because of the strength of their lobbying. The point was thus made that civil society has a large and valuable role to play in this area.
• Karina Marcus from “Ambient Assisted Living” (AAL) highlighted a number of technologies being developed to help older people with day-to-day tasks and improve their standard of care. In particular, innovations, such as a device which allows a computer-mouse to be controlled by the tongue, thereby enabling those with diseases such as Parkinsons to use computers hands-free and a new type of laptop which is being developed with an easy-to-use screen and keyboard that will better suit older people.
• Fanny Cools, from the think tank ‘Pour la Solidarite’, discussed the development of smart phone applications that can be used as keys, so that carers can get access to patients’ homes without a physical key. No mention was made here, however, of the safety and security of this kind of device.
• During the debate, Nicola Robinson from AGE UK made an important point about access to ICT. She gave the example that in Britain, only 29 per cent of people over the age of 75 have ever used the internet. Thus, the creation of more and more services accessible through ICT risks the isolation and exclusion of those not able, or not willing, to use the internet. This point was supplemented by several contributions which highlighted the cost of ‘going online’ and the risk of excluding poorer and more vulnerable citizens. One example given pointed to the importance of public libraries as a source of internet connectivity and guidance for older people, which is being heavily impacted by the financial crisis and austerity measures.
Finally, the representative from the Commission made the hearing aware that a set of action plans will be announced, as part of the Innovative Partnership on Active Ageing, on 6 November 2012.
For further information see the event website.
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