European care takers soon to discuss their professional experiences over the Internet

Loughborough 15 December 1999In July 1998, a European Commission project was set up within the Telematics Programme for disabled and elderly people with a duration of 30 months to provide Distance Information, Support and Communication for European Carers (DISCUS). The primary objective of the DISCUS project is to develop Internet based resources which support professional care workers in the practical aspects of their work, and which is particularly appropriate for the education, training and support of carers in remote locations. A team of researchers from the Human Sciences and Advanced Technology Institute at Loughborough University is partnering with organisations and companies of kindred spirit in Greece, Italy and The Netherlands to enhance the quality of life for elderly and disabled people by ensuring that care workers have access to the best available knowledge and care support.

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The DISCUS consortium has selected USERfit as a user-centred design methodology to develop a generic communication system, including information and advice on care provision as well as electronic mail facilities. To this purpose, requirement capture exercises have been conducted in the four participating countries to clearly understand the practical needs which care workers in distant locations are confronted with. As such, the DISCUS team intends to provide an easy to use, time-saving and qualified resource for electronic information. The system will enable care workers to exchange experiences and fully benefit from the knowledge base of colleague health professionals and experts across Europe.

The resulting web site and Internet services will be demonstrated both in Greece and Italy in order to assess and validate the practical provision of remote care support by means of telematics applications. This task will be carried out by the Samos Municipal Home for the Elderly; the association of volunteer carers, known as the Agapi Foundation; and the COO.S.S. Marche, a care provider in Ancona, responsible for the daily social as well as sanitary services of 2000 elderly and 150 disabled people in this Italian region. The more effective the use of the DISCUS system will be, the greater the demand for user-friendly and efficient assistive technologies and telematic solutions. It is therefore important to tailor the generic information resource such as to meet local conditions.

The DISCUS system will be designed and evaluated by the HUSAT Institute, the largest independent European centre at Loughborough University, which focuses exclusively on shaping technology to the specific user preferences of people and organisations. This task will be performed in assistance with the Dutch partners, namely the University of Eindhoven and also the Province of North Brabant, which is represented by its combined departments of Care & Welfare and Economic Affairs; the Institute of Gerontechnology (IGT), hosted in Eindhoven; and two Foundations, being Digital City Eindhoven and Home Care Kempenstreek. Additionally, the Brabant Institute of Care will equally contribute to the project. As such, Brabant will offer its project management skills to DISCUS, as well as the drive to tailor the generic sites for Dutch use by organisations, such as Kempenstreek.

The Italian partner Nexus, a private limited company specialised in telematic and training services, will be responsible for the functional specification of DISCUS and the technical development of both the generic and the tailored Italian system. The two remaining consortium partners are both located in Greece. Biotrast will contribute to the project as a specialist in the fostering of initiation and co-ordination of a variety of trans-European programmes in medicine, computer-based and distance learning, multimedia, tele-presence and virtual reality. In turn, the Aegean Health Institute is a scientific, non-profit making company concerned with research on and the improvement of the health of Aegean citizens. In this capacity, it will assist in monitoring the results of the DISCUS initiative. More project details are available on the DISCUS Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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