With the World Health Organization estimating the number of people 60 years and older to reach 2 billion by 2050[1] – more than double the number today – many countries will need innovative solutions to ensure the stability of their healthcare systems. Fortunately, active assisted living (AAL) is helping the world cope with aging populations suffering from chronic conditions.

What is AAL and how is it advancing healthcare?

AAL uses technology to create a support system for the elderly in industrialized countries, helping them to live healthier lives and enjoy a better quality of life, according to the IEC Systems Committee on AAL (SyC AAL). The technology being used today for AAL has only emerged in recent years, but it is already helping to embed AAL within the users’ homes – even for those individuals suffering from illnesses or physical, mental, and social disabilities. From health apps on your smartphone, to zero-effort technology, more and more people are empowered to stay active and independent, and live at home as long as possible.

Boosting AAL capabilities without compromising privacy – A research initiative

The pace at which these AAL technologies are developed and brought to market has sparked interest in identifying gaps in standards and regulatory frameworks to ensure the individual’s privacy and data integrity, while enabling data sharing with other apps and devices. This would aid in tracking, understanding, and influencing positive, healthy behaviors – maximizing the value of these health-focused apps and devices. CSA Group and UbiLab have embarked on a major research initiative to see how this vision can become reality.

What are the gaps?

Many standards already exist for Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology, but they only address IoT on a general level. Understanding the purpose and function of each IoT device is critical to enable application-specific solutions, especially for healthcare. Because this space lacks standardization, the devices and apps currently available vary greatly in terms of function, data collection and display, accessibility, and data sharing. They are also susceptible to being hacked as there are no standard best practices for ensuring security and the privacy of users and patients.

Another issue is that mobile health technology is very focused on the individual using them, but the abundance and value of the data collected by these devices have not yet been leveraged to understand what’s happening at the “population” level. For example, one of the main symptoms of depression is social isolation. If data from wearable technology were connected to apps and smart home technology, public health professionals would be able to monitor behavior and verify if people were actually bound to their home or even a single room. It could help trigger a timely response. But we’re not there yet. This is because no framework exists to facilitate secure data sharing among vendors, devices, apps, and public health departments that can capture this information and inform more effective, targeted solutions for AAL users.

Realizing the possibilities

A standardized and secure data-sharing platform connecting multiple devices and apps can help developers and professionals in the healthcare space see the full picture and devise solutions to really achieve an active and independent aging population. But it was only recently that the standards community came together to begin addressing this issue.

In 2015, the IEC Systems Committee on Active Assisted Living (SyC AAL) was formed to create an AAL vision. The committee is tasked with “fostering standardization to enable usability and accessibility of AAL systems and services, and importantly, cross-vendor interoperability of the systems, services, products and components.”[2] SyC AAL is also addressing cybersecurity and privacy matters of these systems.

It was through conversations at the IEC SyC AAL committee that CSA Group and UbiLab came together to investigate the potential for standardized data-sharing infrastructure to boost AAL. Each of these organizations has extensive expertise in the area of emerging technology and IoT. UbiLab designs, develops, and evaluates AAL technology, and it is currently conducting research on eHealth technology for population-level health, health data analytics, wearables, as well as user-centred, data-driven design that helps improve user experience and outcomes of health data. CSA Group’s expertise in emerging technologies and consensus-based standards development will help bring AAL-focused standards to the market that can enable the industry to improve its products and services, and empower people to live healthier lives.

Looking ahead

CSA Group and UbiLab are releasing two research reports that will help inform the creation of data-sharing infrastructure and the accompanying standards framework. The first report will explore the technical standards for ensuring security and privacy for data sharing and storage within Canada’s healthcare sector. The second will offer a systems-level gap analysis and policy level implementation suggestions for AAL technology scaling in Canada. Finally, a peer-reviewed publication will detail the necessary infrastructure for AAL data integration and wide-scale deployment.

Interested in learning more about this research initiative and the possibilities for AAL? Read next month’s story to find out more about the findings from our first workshop and literature review.

[1] Ageing and health Fact Sheet N°404, September 2015, World Health Organization

[2] Janice Blondeau & Pierre Sébellin, “Active Assisted Living: from strategy to reality,” IEC e-tech, Sep. 2015