[Editor Donna’s note: Even if you have already read this great article by Steve, read on to the first comment as to ‘what happened’.]
Before you read the rest of this item, read or re-read the following two popular recent falls-related articles:
The acceptability of false positive fall alerts and the risk of false negatives has dogged fall detection ever since the first detector was invented. It is great to see this fundamental matter still being debated on this website by experienced practitioners!
However, given that calibration of devices has, as Tom Doris points out, inherent problems however sophisticated they become, I see no one putting their finger on what I consider to be the ‘real’ issue. That is: where in the system is the intelligence that judges whether a fall is problematic or not?
Current systems place the intelligence either with a call centre operator or (as Mike Orton highlights in his comment on Andy Schoonover’s response to Tom) with emergency responders. Andy locates an additional element of intelligence in the decision of someone to accept that they are likely to have more calls from a call centre than are really necessary.
But, what if… what if… the intelligence in the system could be located with the person who has fallen or who just sat down heavily?
An alarm button is a proxy for this but comes with a number of other problems and, in effect, just alerts the system that intelligence from a call centre operator is required.
How would it be if, on detecting what seemed to be a fall, the device spoke to the person and asked if they were okay? And then, if they said they were, took no further action. Or if the device got a negative answer, or none, it would then alert whoever had been assigned to respond? On the other hand, the person could ask the device to call for help at any time they were feeling unwell, fall or not.
By locating the intelligence in the system with the person who has most intelligence about the situation you will have eliminated all false positives and false negatives!
As Tom says in his How to Recognize the Solution When It Arrives conclusion “The next-generation fall detection system will probably need to use more than just accelerometer data to achieve the necessary accuracy and reliability levels.”
Can such a device be developed?
I flagged up in 2010 that such a device was in development. (Innovative: Game-changing: Next generation (Verity))
In 2013 the developer announced that it was ready for production. Have telecare companies been beating down his door to snap up the rights?
The answer, as you have probably guessed from my tone, is ‘no’ and he has turned his attention to developing a health monitoring product in the belief that there is more interest in the market for health devices. There is now not even a mention of Verity on his company’s current website. iMonSys.
I am fully aware that history is littered with brilliant inventions that didn’t get to market because the developer focused on perfecting the engineering rather than on the marketing needed to ‘cross the chasm’ but it exasperates me that no one in the industry has the wit to invest in taking forward an elegant solution to such a difficult problem.
Steve Hards is founder and ex-editor in chief of TTA. He has no financial interest in the above-mentioned device.