Oslo, a pioneer in healthcare technology

The number of people older than 65 will not stop growing over the following decades, impacting long-term care worldwide. However, Oslo seems to have found the solution to the challenges that local governments face about their ageing populations.

The introduction of technology in the healthcare system is one of the Norwegian capital’s main priorities to provide a quality system for all. Digital devices are proven to make people feel safe, empowered and activate them physically and socially.

“In 2030, those aged 80 and older would double in my district,” says Bente Nodland Otto, Health director at Ullern, one of Oslo’s districts. “You can give me all the money you want, but I won’t be able to have enough nurses. We need to find a way for technology to get  things done,” she adds.

Here is the beginning of welfare technology.

The other side of technology

Modern devices, artificial intelligence and big data can all join efforts to make elderly care homes safer and, therefore, become a place to stay for longer.

The reason why the elderly ends up moving to nursing homes is that they feel insecure at home, Otto admits. “They are afraid of falling. Some people have heart diseases and are afraid of having a heart attack or going to sleep because no one could see if anything would happen to them,” she adds.

To tackle the problem, in 2017 some Oslo districts – including Ullern – asked a company to devise a digital monitoring device. The infrared ‘RoomMate’ system detects movements such as falls, helping senior citizens to feel safer at home while allowing the city to save money.

Promotional image of RoomMate

Keeping an eye on patients

Another innovative addition is the ‘Remote Patient Monitoring’, an app-based remote control that checks an elderly’s room. Studies show that this system may increase users’ sense of safety, educate them about their chronic disease and enable them to act when symptoms occur.

In addition, the ‘Remote Patient Monitoring’ empowers users’ relatives and reassures them, postpones the need for home care services and reduces the number of hospitalisations. Moreover,  patients can live longer at home and enjoy a better quality of life.

Over the past few years, the monitoring system has became essential for the elderly at home. Meanwhile, the city of Oslo has offered everyone aged 75 and older a third device to feel safe when outside. The system is a watch, necklace or shoe sole equipped with a GPS tracker that people can use while walking outdoors.

Automatic medication dispensers were introduced.

A pioneering nursing home

Oslo is also preparing to receive more people in nursing homes. The Lindeberghjemmet nursing home is piloting technological devices and monitoring systems for their patients.

“We are the nursing home that has the most integrated healthcare technology,” proudly says Jonas Nermoen, an ICT and digitisation consultant. Healthcare technology increases residents’ safety and their relatives’ peace of mind, making it more effective and easier for caretakers, he adds.

Some examples are the above-mentioned ‘RoomMate’ sensor, the patient’s aid, that allows calling the right employee anytime, or a device to check for incontinence. ‘RoomMate’ “means we can have early warnings at night, for example,” adds Nermoen.

A picture from Lindeberghjemmet nursing home

He explains that in cases of mild cognitive impairment, people may wake up in the middle of the night and forget to use their stroller if they’re confused. Thanks to technology, Lindeberghjemmet nursing home employees receive an alert, check the person’s room and can provide immediate help.

“Traditionally, we do the rounds three times every night. Now we are quicker and go where it’s needed instead of checking in case there is something to do,” Nermoen explains. He adds that, at quiet times, the nursing home can easily monitor 50 people simultaneously.

All these innovative elements changed the dynamics at the Lindeberghjemmet nursing home. “We had to restructure ourselves. Changing how to work is almost the hardest part. But this is for our residents, their safety and our peace of mind,” Nermoen says.

Are humans no longer needed?

“We have to draw the line between what can be done by artificial intelligence, robots and electronic devices and what is needed by human beings,” Otto says.

Indeed, Nermoen explains that humans are still needed as nursing home employees, especially at busy times when many patients need help simultaneously. But technology makes human work more efficient.

“We see a huge lead in doing things differently for our elderly, at least in Norway. I am glad this technology emerges now so growing old and needing nursing can be handled easily if we work now,” he says.

Privacy and data protection are an additional concern regarding technology: caretakers in nursing homes ask residents for their consent to use the innovative devices. When dealing with patients with cognitive impairment who cannot make an informed decision, health care providers made decisions on their behalf.

Because of General Data Protection Regulation, the ‘RoomMate’ system doesn’t identify the person using it, except by infrared colours . “We make sure we follow the Norwegian law and the patient’s rights,” Nermoen adds.

The beginning of well-being technology

The Oslo city council focuses on four areas: procurement and arenas for innovation, implementation and service models, response services, and data exchange through an information hub.

The goal is to integrate technology as part of the city’s healthcare services. The same technology and a comprehensive service model must be offered regardless of the city district, which will contribute to innovation and business development in town.

Apart from other interesting technological devices, Ullern district’s initiatives also rely on a human approach. For example, pairing moms with their new-borns on walks with older people, an interaction that has shown to leave the participants happy and healthy.

The Norwegian capital sees technology as an opportunity to improve care for the elderly. The Oslo government’s body of nursing homes launched the idea of stipulating contracts with technological companies, with a budget of €7-9 million. “We want to increase the use of this technology, and we know that this is the way forward,”  Nermoen says.

Oslo proves that technology can have a social impact, especially in helping the vulnerable.

Marta Buces Eurocities Writer