Japan’s workarounds for adult care shortage: robots, exoskeletons, sensors

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/robear.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The problem of Japan’s aging population–the oldest worldwide with 32 percent aged 60+ (2013, RFE)–and shortage of care workers has led to a variety of ‘digital health solutions’ in the past few years, some of them smart, many of them gimmicky, expensive, or non-translatable to other cultures. There have been the comfort robot semi-toys (the PARO seal, the Chapit mouse), the humanoid exercise-leading robots (Palro), and IoT gizmos. Smarter are the functional robots which can transfer a patient to/from bed and wheelchair disguised as cuddly bears (Robear, developed by Riken and Sumitomo Riko) and Panasonic’s exoskeletons for lifting assistance.

Japan’s problem: how to support more older adults in homes with increasingly less care staff, and how to pay for it. The Financial Times quotes Japan government statistics that by 2025 there will be 2.5m skilled care workers but 380,000 more are needed. The working age population is shrinking by 1 percent per year and immigration to Japan is near-nonexistent. Japan is looking to technology to do more with fewer people, for instance transferring social contact or hard, dirty work to robots. The very real challenge is to produce and support the devices at a reasonable price for both domestic use and–where the real money is–export. 

The Abe government in 2012 budgeted ¥2.39bn ($21m) for development of nursing care robots, with the Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry tasked to find and subsidize 24 companies–not a lot of money and parceled out thinly. Five years later, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare determined that “deeper work is needed on machinery and software that can either replace human care workers or increase staff efficiency.” Even Panasonic concurred that robots cannot offset the loss of human carers on quality of services. At this point. Japan leads in robots under development with SoftBank’s Pepper and NAO, with Toshiba’s ChihiraAiko ‘geisha robot’ (Guardian) debuting at CES 2015 and Toyota’s ongoing work with their Human Support Robot (HSR)–a moving article on its use with US Army CWO Romy Camargo is here. (attribution correction and addition–Ed.)

The next generation of care aids by now has moved away from comfort pets to sensors and software that anticipate care needs. Projects under development include self-driving toilets (sic) that move to the patient; mattress sensor-supplied AI which can sense toileting needs (DFree) and other bed activity; improved ‘communication robots’ which understand and deploy stored knowledge. Japan’s businesses also realize the huge potential of the $16 trillion China market–if China doesn’t get there first–and other Asian countries such as Thailand, a favored retirement spot for well-off Japanese. In Japanese discussions, ‘aging in place’ seems to be absent as an alternative, perhaps due to small families.

But Japan must move quickly, more so than the leisurely pace so far. Already Thailand is pioneering smart cities with Intel and Dell [TTA 16 Aug 16] and remote patient monitoring with Western companies such as Philips [TTA 30 Aug]. There’s the US and Western Europe, but incumbents are plentiful and the bumpy health tech ride tends not to suit Japanese companies’ deliberate style. Can they seize the day?  Financial Times (PDF here if paywalled) Hat tip to reader Susanne Woodman of BRE (Photo: Robear) 

What’s news at the end of the week

Care Innovations harmonizes seniors, Panasonic adds diabetes, Jawbone and Fitbit bite, the first EHR/PHR Hack and Concussion in Cleveland. Converging its interests in remote patient monitoring with its long-time footprint in senior housing resident monitoring (QuietCare), Intel-GE Care Innovations is testing its Health Harmony remote patient monitoring system, partnering with two California-located Front Porch communities and the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing. The residents selected have poor chronic condition management or have returned after a discharge from a skilled nursing facility. No disclosure on projected number or duration–and it doesn’t appear that QuietCare is part of the monitoring. Release….Panasonic just bought Bayer Healthcare’s diabetes/blood glucose monitoring device unit for $1.13 billion as Bayer continues to shed non-life science businesses. While old-school prick-and-bleed monitors are being eclipsed by continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) and mobile-based devices such as Telcare in the US and in Europe, there’s plenty of market remaining in the West, and new ones in Asia and the Middle East for simple devices. It joins Panasonic’s existing blood pressure monitors. MedCityNews….Jawbone and Fitbit continue to snap at each other in court, with the former on Wednesday filing a second lawsuit on patent infringement, specifically “a wellness application using data from a data-capable band”, with the added fillip of going to the International Trade Commission, which could ban the import of Fitbit products or component parts. The 28 May lawsuit was about Fitbit’s hiring of five former Jawbone employees who allegedly stole IP. The companies between them have hundreds of patents, and as this Editor has noted in previous IP and patent troll articles, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is not especially rigorous in ensuring that patents are not overbroad. Wonderful for the IP attorneys, but not exactly what Fitbit wants as a runup to their expected IPO next week. Wall Street Journal….Now an EHR and PHR join Hackermania Running Wild. Medical Informatics Engineering reported Tuesday that in May their server was cyberattacked, exposing PHI of patients in five clients and separately information contained in the NoMoreClipboard PHR subsidiary. POLITICO reports that this is the first recorded instance of an EHR compromise. MIE ReleasePOLITICO Morning eHealth….If you are in the Cleveland, Ohio area and have an interest, Concussion: A National Challenge is a free, two-day event on detection and diagnosis sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Metro Health and Taipei Medical University. Advance registration required.

HIMSS’ last full day highlights company partnerships

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/himss_chicago_2015-588×337.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]It’s almost time to Say Goodbye to Sinatra’s ‘My Kind of Town’, but there’s still news: Samsung+Partners Healthcare, IMS Health, AliveCor, Interoperability≠Humana, Panasonic+Cisco

  • Samsung and Partners HealthCare announced a direct-to-mobile partnership to develop chronic care management mobile software that monitors vital signs such as blood pressure, blood glucose and weight, as well as delivers mobile patient engagement, medication adherence and wellness self-management. Clinical trial is scheduled for June. Partners has always been a pioneer in the mHealth area, but playing with Samsung, Partners is flying at a slightly higher level than with Wellocracy and certainly the late Healthrageous. Partners release, Mobihealthnews (more…)

Panasonic enters telehealth, debuts On4Today

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Panasonic-on4today.jpg” thumb_width=”175″ /]Panasonic’s new Health and Wellness Solutions group has tossed their cap into the socialization ring with tablet-based On4Today. The Wi-Fi connected tablet is targeted to senior housing communities to assist residents, especially those with cognitive impairment, in staying connected and managing their daily activities. Launched this week at the LeadingAge annual meeting of non-profit housing and long-term care providers in Nashville (IAHSA internationally), the tablet features a calendar, provides reminders, receives messages and lets the user view photos, videos and video chat. It does not, at present, do any clinical monitoring. This Editor received a preview at the Aging 2.0/New York meeting in New York earlier this month showcasing Jewish Home Lifecare and Panasonic. (more…)