Mixed-reality telehealth consultations, smart wheelchairs and race-specific cardiac risk prediction analytics are some ways to improve quality of silver healthcare.

Babies born today in the higher-income nations of Asia can expect to live into their ninth decade or beyond. In fact, Asia’s ‘silver generation’—the cohort of people aged over 60—is due to triple between the years 2010 and 2050, reaching close to 1.3bn people. 

But as more of us enter our silver years, many will encounter new challenges. Aging-related chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer are impacting lives across the region and putting enormous pressure on our already under-resourced healthcare sectors. 

So, how do we ensure that longevity does not come at the expense of quality of life? And how can data and AI help? 

Tackling healthcare hurdles with tech

The World Economic Forum says that to manage the needs of an aging population, we need to start early with programs that focus on the young and middle-aged, as well as the elderly. By taking a lifetime approach to patient care, healthcare providers can deliver preventative services that will ultimately help to alleviate the negative impacts of aging on people’s lives—and on our healthcare systems. 

Many healthcare professionals already know all about the need to shift the focus from reactive to preventative measures—by taking a longer-term, more holistic approach to patient care. What they struggle with is first, getting the patient data necessary to inform this approach, and second, finding the time to deliver it. 

Solutions like Halza, an app built on Microsoft Azure that lets patients securely store, track, and share their medical data, are reinventing the way patients manage their health information. But healthcare providers themselves are in a different situation. Outdated operating systems and siloes within and across care teams can make gathering, managing, analyzing, and sharing patient data a challenge.

Meanwhile, a shortage of healthcare staff is affecting most areas of our region. In South-east Asia alone, we lack 1.9 million nurses and midwives. Leading-edge technology can be used to tackle these challenges head on to deliver preventative, proactive care to support aging populations in the most efficient way possible.

Catching issues before they mature

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Asia, and it is a problem that will only intensify as our populations continue to age. It is also a problem that healthcare providers struggle to diagnose early enough to make a real difference. 

Some predictive tools do exist to help physicians understand the probability of their patients having heart attacks. But as most of these tools have been trained by Western data sets, they do not take regional variations in risk factors into account—and that means they do not deliver the same degree of accuracy. 

India’s Apollo Hospitals, however, is changing all that. They partnered with Microsoft’s AI Network for Healthcare to use more than 10 years of anonymized data of 400,000 patients across the country to train machine learning models in predicting cardiac risk in the Indian context.

Then, Apollo validated the scoring system internationally using federated learning in the Cloud. The scoring tool they have developed is jaw-dropping: its accuracy at quickly predicting the probability of a patient developing coronary disease is at least 15–30% higher than that of existing models.

Extending care beyond hospitals

Over the past two years, like most regions around the world, Asia has seen an enormous surge in telehealth and other forms of virtual care. And as well as helping healthcare providers manage the pandemic, the remote-monitoring boom is having major implications for how we treat ageing patients. 

In Japan’s remote island region of Nagasaki, for instance, a shortage of medical professionals means that a general check-up can be hard to come by, and a specialist appointment almost impossible. Now, however, Nagasaki University is bringing specialists to clinics on remote islands, via mixed-reality equipment and Microsoft Teams. 

For example, the university’s Rheumatoid Arthritis Remote Medical System photographs a patient’s hand in their local clinic and creates a hologram of it in real time. Specialists get a dynamic 3D view of the hand, so they can see how the joint moves and understand the patient’s condition from afar, via personal face-to-face chats. 

In Taiwan, wheelchair manufacturer Karma Medical is using Internet of Things (IoT) technology and Dynamics 365 Connected Field Service to empower healthcare providers to monitor patients remotely. A smart wheelchair lets care professionals track patients’ daily usage for optimized maintenance and monitor mobility habits in real time, getting a better understanding of how elderly patients are faring beyond the clinic’s walls.

In Australia, Microsoft and Napier Healthcare are supporting Mobile Rehab Australia to extend its reablement and restorative health programs to elderly clients in their own homes. By equipping Mobile Rehab with secure access to patient data, Napier Healthcare is enabling the organization to connect and coordinate with allied health professionals and deliver more personalized care.

Mobile Rehab also plans to use AI technology to get the insights it needs to make resource management and route planning more efficient. Innovations like these are not just making care delivery more efficient for healthcare systems. They are also improving senior citizens’ quality of life, by giving them the tools to remain independent as they age. 

Making the most of life

The importance of data and AI in enabling healthcare providers to deliver preventative care cannot be overstated. Nor can the benefits of connected devices and remote monitoring technology. But perhaps the most exciting development of all is the way that digitalization is empowering older individuals to stay engaged in the world beyond their doors.

Residents in New Zealand’s Ryman Healthcare facilities, for instance, recently participated in the world’s first retirement village virtual games. Inspired by the Tokyo Olympics, Ryman Healthcare had teamed up with Aware Group to create an immersive, weeks-long event where residents of 42 retirement villages across Australia and New Zealand used Microsoft Surface devices, AI technology and HoloLens mixed-reality headsets for gaming competitions. 

From computer vision-enabled bowls tournaments and cycling races through terrains created by immersive augmented reality tools, through to a giant pub quiz between residents across the two countries, Ryman’s Virtual Games have helped residents get active, get engaged, and get more out of every day. 

As our populations age, we believe we will see more and more of these sorts of initiatives. A long life does not come at the expense of a good life, and while we often think of technology as the province of the young, its benefits for the elderly may be even more profound.