Technology should be an enabler, create added value for society, support people’s independence and self-esteem, and maximise the opportunities for users to make their own decisions. Human relationships must always be the focus; the technology should be in the background.
We also want to highlight the human factor during the development, evaluation, implementation and assignment of responsibility for technological innovation. In other words, the machine or computer should not take over from human beings. Making a diagnosis, assessment of care and support needs, initiating a treatment plan and all the other decisive steps in a clinical journey should take place under the supervision of human professionals. Artificial intelligence, computers and technology can support these processes, but they should never take over completely.
For every development in ‘caring technology’ we should ask ourselves whether citizens, patients, family carers and health professionals – in other words the wider group of users of the technology – receive sufficient benefits from the innovations that are introduced. The purpose of such new developments should be to support and improve people’s quality of life.
Encourage ongoing collaboration among all the actors involved, through the creation of an integrated technological ecosystem in which interoperability, standardised protocols and open-source (basic) technology are all self-evident. Support patients and citizens to allow them to participate optimally in the development and use of this ecosystem.
Fruitful collaboration requires sharing of data, knowledge and technology. This means having systems that communicate with each other, systems that are attuned to each other and innovative products that work together, without barriers and while preserving their own functionality and performance. Sharing and cooperation can only happen smoothly through the creation of a common technological ecosystem to which all the stakeholders, including patients and citizens can connect (open source).
An ecosystem for ‘caring technology’ requires more than just technical adjustments – development of standards, open interfaces, data integration, connection services, suitable data platforms and software etc. It also requires developers to adopt a different approach and existing commercial models need to be adapted. Above all, we must prevent the situation where the only innovations that get to the market are completely dependent on underlying technologies which are not shared or which are controlled by monopoly players.
Collaboration also means that the contribution of all the stakeholders – including end-users such as patients, citizens, care and health professionals and social workers – is taken into account in a way that is inclusive (“everyone is involved”) and that this is done systematically throughout the development process. We expect the emphasis in this process to be on the real needs of the end-users concerned, and that all actors will make efforts to ensure that those needs are met. The key concepts underlying this guiding principle for all the stakeholders are involvement, active participation, cooperation, collaboration and a needs-oriented approach.
To allow citizens, patients and other users to make informed choices, there needs to be appropriate and accessible information available that explains the benefits and inconveniences of an innovation in an objective way. This is required to ensure a sufficient degree of confidence in the innovations and allow people to act independently and responsibly.
Information should be disseminated in a way that is tailored for the various target groups. The fundamental target group is the end user: people needing care or assistance, and also those who wish to use technology to maintain their health. Care and health professionals and social workers should also be viewed as users of ‘caring technology’. They must also be able to make decisions on the basis of objective information. This information may, for example, be disseminated in the form of specific information leaflets, like the ones that are already issued for medications. These recommendations should be viewed above all as tools to provide insights and guidance to users, patients, citizens and others to help them to make the best choices.
Actively providing honest, easily understandable information is the job of everyone involved in the ecosystem: people who design and market technological innovations, actors in the fields of care, care, health and well-being, patient and user organisations, and public authorities. This mission to provide good information should be an integral part of the development of the ‘caring technology’ ecosystem itself.