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Hampshire trials Alexa for people with disabilities

09/03/18

Early stages of trial show potential for combining Amazon AI software with other devices as part of adult social care

Hampshire County Council has identified the potential to use Amazon Alexa software and associated devices to support people with severe disabilities.

Amazon Echo and Echo Dot devicesGraham Allen, director of adult social care for the county, told the ShareDigital conference yesterday that this has been one of the early achievements of its programme of trials of the use of the technology in social care.

The council received a small amount of funding from the Department of Health last year to do a proof of concept for the use of Alexa in the sector. This has involved working with its telehealthcare partner, the Argenti Telehealthcare Partnership led by PA Consulting, and aiming to set up Amazon Echo devices for 50 social care clients over the course of the year.

“We found in the application of Alexa that it is very supportive of particular commissions. It can unlock real opportunities for people with life-limiting conditions such as multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease,” Allen said.

“We’re at the point of linking Alexa to other technologies in the house. One of the interesting ones is the Amazon Firestick to watch TV. We’ve been working with partners to ensure you can work it through Alexa without having to push the button on the remote control.”

He pointed out this can provide a significant improvement in the quality of life for people with little or no mobility.

Outcomes crucial

“The technology is not important; it’s what it’s delivering in terms of the outcomes for people,” he said. “It’s about enabling people to live well rather than simply live.”

Up to the middle of last month, the council has installed 25 Echos for clients and had another six scheduled, against a target for the year of 50.

Allen emphasised, however, that Hampshire is not committed to seeing Alexa as the key technology for all of its telecare services.

“We are agnostic about the technology we use,” he said. “We think about outcomes and how they can be best delivered to help our population.”

He added that there are now about 9,500 people using the council’s telecare service, and of those more than 5,000 only have a telecare solution.

“Four or five years ago telecare was layered on top of other solutions, as an ‘in addition to’,” he said. “We went back to ground zero and it became an ‘instead of’. Part of our success is that we’ve managed to replace a lot of traditional forms of service through the application of technology.”

He cited reducing social isolation through the provision of tablet computers as an example.

This has also contributed to the department delivering £43.1 million of savings over the past two years. A new programme will be aimed at delivering a further £56 million of savings – 19% of the budget.

"We cannot do that kind of transformational change without harnessing the power of technology," Allen said.

Image: Amazon Echos by Best AI Assistant, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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