Technology is rapidly evolving around us – sometimes so quickly that it’s often hard to remember what life was like before mobile phones, email and wi-fi.
But technology is doing more than just connecting us and making some of life’s more arduous tasks a little bit more bearable. It can actually help to manage illnesses or provide valuable ‘on the go’ support.
Recently there has been a trial of virtual reality involving those suffering from severe paranoia. Sufferers often avoid other people as they have a strong sense of mistrust and believe that they are under threat. This can often lead to them isolating themselves and avoiding situations where they may encounter large groups of people.
The study allowed participants suffering from paranoia to step into a virtual world where they either had to get onto a London Underground train or into a lift. They could then experience the feeling of being around other people without some of their usual fears.
One group were told they could use their normal defensive behaviours, such as avoiding eye contact. The others were told that they could approach any of the people in the virtual world and stare right at them.
The findings from the trial were pretty impressive. More than half of the group that had tried out the staring technique said they no longer had severe paranoia at the end of the day of testing. Even the first group, who had used their normal defences, felt some reduction in their levels of severe paranoia.
While virtual reality headsets may not start appearing in workplaces across the country anytime soon, it is a great reminder of the good that can come from advances in technology.
Take a look at the wrists of some of your colleagues and the chances are you will find an increasing number of people wearing fitness trackers. This area of health monitoring appears to be booming with latest estimates claiming that the wearable tech market will be worth more than £20bn by 2020. Admittedly, just wearing a watch that tracks steps and heart rate isn’t going to cure obesity, but it does show a level of engagement in personal wellbeing which could be stepping stone to improved lifestyle choices.
It was also announced earlier this year that the NHS is trialling connected devices to see how they could be used to help people with dementia. Some of the tech being tested includes a virtual personal assistant and monitors attached to kettles and fridges that can learn an individual’s routine and set off an alert if that routine is broken.
One of the main positives about the development of technology within healthcare is the immediacy. Waiting times for any treatment can be an issue so being able to use technology that, once it is set up, can provide monitoring with very limited human intervention means more people can receive the attention they need more quickly.
As a group protection provider I have always advocated that approach. We offer a service where group income protection members can book and doctors appointment and then video-call a GP using their smartphone. And while phone lines are not exactly cutting edge, employee assistance programmes (EAP) work in a similar way. They offer support when it is needed in a convenient and hassle-free way which benefits the provider, the employer and most importantly the employee.
The expansion of technology into healthcare looks only set to increase. Workplaces will have to balance the benefit against the cost – but that goes for almost any business decision. So while I don’t expect the office coffee machine to be monitoring my movements in the next few weeks, or to walk into a meeting room to find virtual reality goggles strapped to everyone’s heads – it might not be as far away as we think.
Steve Bridger is managing director of Aviva Group Protection