New international textbook: Welfare technology is undoubtedly multidisciplinary
Multidisciplinary discussion is needed when welfare technology is developed. In practice, an engineer and a nurse need to understand each other.
Sari Merilampi and Andrew Sirkka, who work in the Research Group of Well-Being Enhancing Technology of SAMK, have edited a book that introduces the basics and practical ideas of welfare technology. Introduction to Smart eHealth and eCare Technologies was published by the international CRC Press. The writers are from all over Europe.
Welfare technology can involve any technology that maintains or promotes health and well-being. Sari Merilampi and Andrew Sirkka use terms enabling and enhancing technologies.
“Welfare technology is a technology that helps people to help themselves and each other. For example playing serious games can mean helping yourself, Sari Merilampi says.
The idea for a book was created by practical needs. The literature on welfare technology had been dispersed in narrow expert articles.
“It is burdensome for the students to search for information from them”, Andrew Sirkka states.
“There has not been any introduction either. There has to be material with which to get started”, Sari Merilampi continues.
When the practical needs were most acute, they were asked, whether they would be interested in compiling a book on the themes of their conference session.
The whole picture included in the book
The aim of the book was to give students and other people interested in the field an overall view of what welfare technology is and what it could be. The goal was to have an edited whole with different points of view and diversified discussions. It is not easy for people to come out of their own comfort zone and talk to each other in this field.
“There are books on the idea level or plain concreteness on some specific field, e.g. sensor technology”, Merilampi and Sirkka point out.
The editors regard the extensive European perspective as the strength of the book. There are examples from different health and welfare systems in the Netherlands, Portugal, Ireland, Estonia, Spain and Finland. The writers include, e.g. a biologist, a physician, company representatives, engineers and of course Sari Merilampi, a Doctor of Technology, and Andrew Sirkka, a Doctor of Education, whose background is in nursing.
Everyday needs and competences do not meet
“It’s a cold fact that engineers do not know what nurses face in their everyday work, and nurses do not know what to require, as they do not know what is technically possible”, Sari Merilampi describes the current situation.
According to Merilampi and Sirkka the nursing staff often has a presumption that they do not know how to use new technology. In Sirkka's opinion nursing studies should include some kind of introduction to welfare technology. The attitude is often “I'm a people person” and technology is considered as its opposite. On the other hand, engineering studies do not include health care, which is perceived as a field of its own.
Having a dialogue is both important and necessary. Otherwise, devices are made that are difficult to use and do not apply to practical reality.
Dialogue is conducted, e.g. in the Degree Programme in Welfare Technology. Merilampi and Sirkka have included experimental culture in the curriculum and feedback from the students has been positive. The most essential thing is client-centredness.
“When we've experimented with an educated guess, the results have been a success. Not as if we had known everything already”, Merilampi explains.
“Also, the students have noticed that it is possible to experiment and make demo versions in their theses”, Sirkka says.
Projects give a chance to experiment
Welfare technology projects bring out possibilities and ideas. Demos and visualizations have got positive feedback form cooperation partners.
A good example of conveying an idea is a mobile memory game as a tool in memory rehabilitation. A game functioning with one's own body movements was demonstrated in rehabilitation at the Diaconia Institute of Western Finland. Markus Halminen, the doctor at the institute was wondering, whether the idea could be developed into a memory game.
“If there hadn't been this demo, the idea would not have come up”, Sirkka says. A mobile memory game was then developed together with memory specialists, which provides acceptability in the field. The results are trusted when ideas have been experimented together.
Merilampi and Sirkka remind that the role of the universities is to bring forward new potential and ideas, not to produce products or services and compete with enterprises. Projects are for experimenting things and bringing different parties together, e.g. a rehabilitation centre and a technology company. When the project succeeds, the companies are willing to be involved in the future, too. “The projects are always based on a real need of an organization or people”, Merilampi says.
Several writers from SAMK
Sari Merilampi, DSc (Tech) is the leader of the Research Group of Well-Being Enhancing Technologies, and Andrew Sirkka, PhD (Ed) is a member of the research group.
Other writers from SAMK include Sirpa Jaakkola-Hesso, Antti Koivisto, Mirka Leino, Riikka Tupala and Pauli Valo.