Interview with Prof. Geraldine Fitzpatrick, Keynote Speaker at PervasiveHealth 2014

Prof. Geraldine Fitzpatrick, Professor of Design and Assessment of Technology at the Faculty of Informatics at the Vienna University of Technology, (Austria), Head of the Institute of Technology Design and Assessment, and Head of the Human Computer Interaction Group, Keynote Speaker at PervasiveHealth 2014, shares with EAI some of her views about the developments in healthcare and pervasive technologies and the relationship between healthcare and the Internet of Things.

What was your overall impression of the conference? What were the most memorable debates that have emerged from the discussions?

Prof. Geraldine Fitzpatrick, Keynote Speaker at PervasiveGames 2014
Prof. Geraldine Fitzpatrick, Keynote Speaker at PervasiveHealth 2014

It is great having a conference that is really focused on issues of healthcare and pervasive technologies and that brings together people from different disciplines around this topic. The diversity of papers reflects this. There were many papers that explored ‘in the wild’ uses of pervasive health applications, taking very strong people-centred approaches. There were also more technical papers, exploring new algorithms or developing novel technologies; wearables were particularly prevalent.  I do not recall any specific debates but I do recall a sense of quiet excitement about the possibilities for the future, seeing such carefully designed technologies and research sensitivities to the realities of everyday life. There’s still much work to do to integrate pervasive health into the mainstream for health and well-being, and this involves more than just getting the technology right.

In which way has the definition of Pervasive Health changed since the first edition of the conference in 2006?

The definition of Pervasive Health in 2006 is still more than relevant today. However the means through which we can achieve the vision set out there have changed. The most obvious change since 2006 has been the exponential growth in smart mobile devices and apps, and maturing sensor-based technologies, and the subsequent increasing emphasis on health and well-being they enable. In 2014, there were a lot of papers about care directed to and carried out by the individual and in the home/community, but very few, if any, on institutional care settings and clinician involvement compared to 2006.

We know, though, that pervasive health technologies can play a role across the care spectrum, from institutional to home settings, and for care of acute and chronic conditions as well as for health and well-being. Hopefully, we can encourage renewed energy into research at the institutional/clinical level despite the significantly greater challenges of doing so – access, scale, complexity, inter-operability, and so on. The ‘big data’ opportunities afforded by more individual-focussed technologies might also provide a good bridge back to not just clinical, but also epidemiological concerns around health.

How is the relationship between healthcare and intelligent devices changing in terms of the Internet of Things? How important is privacy in this context?

The Internet of Things (whatever this actually is, as visions and definitions continue to evolve) provides an interesting umbrella for thinking about much of the work going on in Pervasive Health. By foregrounding the possibilities for interconnectivity, we now have ways of thinking about integrating the implantable cardiac device, our smart homes, the mobile devices we carry around, and other people, devices, locations, information sources, and so on.  We have new ensembles of actors – human, technical, informational – in our Pervasive Health networks; and we have new possibilities for dynamic and responsive configurations of these networks.

Privacy is certainly going to be critical for acceptance, as you indicate by the question. And I think the other big issue is going to be about control, i.e. the mechanism through which we might achieve not only privacy but accountability (what ‘things’ are connected, what data is collected, where it goes, who can see it etc), and sensemaking (what happens with it, how it is used), and integrate-ability, if that is a word (how to connect ‘things’ together). It has to be practical ,and I have to understand how the ‘things’ are working together when I need to, and to have them in the background when I do not, and having a sense that I have made this choice and I can change this choice as situations and needs emerge.