For all the talk about the damage social media does to our ability to communicate face to face, one thing remains true. There’s a group who was already isolated before the rise of the smartphone. This chronically ill, homebound population could benefit from expanded social interaction with the right mix of mobile devices, existing apps, and engaged stakeholders.
So raise your hand if you’ve got a family member or friend living too far away to easily visit. And you know they’re just sitting there most of each day with only some sporadic nurse, physician, or assisted living staff interaction. The all important human interaction needs to be spread across a few more people so that it happens several times in every day; the improvement in mental and physical wellness would be measurable. If the constraints of time and distance were removed, all of these patients already have some broader community of willing stakeholders that could help. For some family members, Gramma may be the one person in the world who would actually appreciate and benefit from the stream of trivial “what I’m doing now” tweets they’re already spraying into the void. The opportunity for physicians and home visit nurses to quickly send either patient specific reminders via txt, or more general information to whole patient groups via twitter would give them some presence in between live visits. The additional community of other online patients with similar conditions and issues provides even more reason to stay engaged.
Now before you roll your eyes at the thought of your not-so-mobile Gramma using Twitter, just consider the simple and engaging interfaces we’re seeing on the iPad and android devices. I saw a story today about a 2 year old mastering an iPad. Even if that’s a stretch, it is true that just a swipe or tap for an incoming notification is not an obstacle. What if Gramma had a lightweight, bright screened, large text and button display device kept beside her or in her lap? Shortcuts, text to speech, Skype? Who knows?
We can worry about exactly which device and whether it’s wifi or 3g/4g later. What we need to come up with now is a process to bring some structure and consistency and outreach to this approach to long term care.