What is the state of healthcare worldwide today?
Some things are certain. We know that the worldwide population is aging dramatically. We know that the cost of care in most countries is rising rapidly, fueled by the introduction of effective but expensive new drugs and equipment. We know that in many countries there will be far fewer medical professionals to care for people who are sick, and we know that as people live longer, they will be required to manage a greater number of chronic conditions for longer periods of time. We know that in some countries there is resistance to paying for additional care. We know that many industrialized health systems are biased toward “sick” care, helping people once they develop a problem, versus helping people stay well throughout their lifespan and minimizing the onset of conditions that are costly to treat and diminish quality of life. We know that individuals now survive traumatic events such as a heart attack or stroke that would have killed them in the past – a medical success story – but then live until old age when the cost of care skyrockets.
In short, we know that all of these pressures mean that we must change the way we deliver healthcare. We need better, more holistic, life-long care at lower cost.
It is for these reasons that the scientific and engineering contributions described in the Handbook of Ambient Assisted Living: Technology for Healthcare, Rehabilitation and Well-being are so important and timely. Innovative use of new technologies may be the only way to provide care affordably, and to scale that care to hundreds of thousands or millions of people, as our societies adapt to the changes mentioned above. The 45 technical chapters presented here together summarize achievements of an accomplished group of researchers around the globe taking a wide-range of approaches to improving health using technology. The chapters provide a thought-provoking framework in which to consider how healthcare might – and must – change in the future. I anticipate that this volume will inspire other researchers to explore how technologies ranging from in-home sensors to wearable systems to game-like interfaces might be used for elder care, wellness promotion, assistive aids, early diagnosis, coping systems, and rehabilitation. In ten or twenty years, the work described here is likely to be mainstream – incorporated into the way we receive daily care and taken for granted. We won't think twice about sensors in our homes or worn on our bodies to help our computers keep us healthy, and we will expect that computers help us to better manage our care when we get sick. Today, however, the research described here is pushing the limits of what we can do with technology and shows the value of transdisciplinary work that merges the latest advances in computing with solid medical research and practice.
Here's to a healthy, technology-aided future.
Ph.D., Assoc. Prof., College of Comp. and Inf. Science & Dept. of Health Sciences, Bouve College of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA