Health technology for social isolation

Investigating social isolation and technology amongst the elderly and disabled

We worked with Telstra Health to design and conduct a research project with health care clients living in the community in regional Queensland, to inform the design and development of new digital products to combat depression that arises from social isolation.

Telstra Health were interested in how elderly and disabled people are addressing the deep issues of social isolation that come with ‘being in care’. They were particularly interested in what role technology plays—or could play—in alleviating this social isolation.

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To investigate this problem, we interviewed a range of elderly and disabled people in different living situations in the town of Toowoomba (a regional centre in Queensland, Australia).

In conversations about their healthcare, their technology use, their families and their lives, we uncovered insights regarding technology & accessibility, the importance of the moments of transition in care (especially health ‘milestones’) in affecting social isolation, and the importance of feeling independent whatever the current living situation.

Something interesting that we found is that age did not seem to be a real factor in determining whether people used technology, but instead a range of other factors including living situation and family support.

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We also found interesting insights that pointed to differences in social bonds formed in places like nursing homes and those formed prior to ‘going into care’—an important consideration when designing any technology with a ‘social’ element.

We provided Telstra Health with a detailed report on our findings and recommendations to help them make informed decisions well grounded in research.

We also ran design workshops to assess their product roadmap and service model, to make sure that in their next phase of product development real client needs were being met.

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