Telecare needs a standard ‘machine language’ to clear up any confusion

The industry needs to dispel any confusion over protocols by working together to create new standards and rules to ensure the interoperability of digital telecare alarm systems, writes Appello’s Carl Atkey

THE world of telecare has changed dramatically over the last few years as digital systems have become established. As a result, misunderstandings over digital telecare standards and protocols within the industry are common.

With this level of confusion, today’s environment can sometimes be unclear for housing providers. However, there is significant change on the horizon.

It’s important we unite as an industry to dispel any confusion over protocols, while working together to create new standards that will benefit housing customers.

Carl Atkey
Carl Atkey, chief technology officer, Appello

Appello is currently working together with the Telecare Services Association (TSA) and other telecare monitoring platform suppliers to develop a single protocol, or set of rules, for digital telecare alarm systems in 2019.

In essence, protocols are the language that the residents’ telecare/alarm equipment sends over the telecoms network to a monitoring centre. It’s this protocol translation that allows the monitoring centre to interpret who and what is calling them. At present there are several different languages being used in the industry, which has resulted in confusion and restrictions for housing providers looking to start on a digital journey.

Currently, we are in a world comparable to desktop computers, where there is Windows (Microsoft) and Mac (Apple). Once you buy that exciting new iMac, you are restricted to a journey of its software and accessories. In a similar fashion, while many monitoring providers are unable to monitor digital telecare devices or only monitor a unique digital protocol, housing providers are restricted to that supplier’s equipment.

If you are tied into a long-term monitoring contract, with a supplier who doesn’t offer digital equipment, you may find that you are being held back from commencing on your digital journey – much to the disadvantage of your residents.

New de facto standard

There is potentially good news ahead, as an Industry Protocol Standard Group, comprising manufacturers and the TSA have joined together to improve the existing digital warden call protocol NOW IP v1.5.

Currently, some housing providers are being held back from the latest digital technology as they are unable to monitor digital alarm equipment. They are being left confused as to whether their current monitoring provider can monitor digital telecare equipment.

A standardised protocol will mean that when housing providers upgrade, the potential interoperability issue between the manufacturer of their telecare equipment and their monitoring provider will be greatly reduced. Housing providers will have far greater control and choice and will be able to select the best monitoring provider and the best equipment for their residents.

This is a key consideration for housing and care providers, particularly as the telecommunications infrastructure shifts from analogue to digital and analogue telephony services will be switched off entirely.

A new de facto NOW IP protocol is really an essential part of easing this process and making it a reality.

In the meantime, though, this should not be holding housing providers back, as there are many housing providers successfully taking their first steps into digital telecare.

What about standards for equipment?

There is also work underway to update the guidelines around telecare equipment to ensure a significant focus on digital systems. A number of digital solutions are compliant, where applicable, with EN50134, a certified standard concerned with the safety built into the development of telecare alarms.

This advisory document originally written around analogue products has morphed in the past year to include digital elements. However, as digital becomes the go-to standard for housing providers, the Industry Protocol Standard Group is supporting the TSA in clearly defining the installation, monitoring and maintenance standards for digital equipment.

As digital technology becomes ever more embedded into housing and care, it is paramount that we continue to strive to deliver the most compatible, joined-up solutions that benefit providers and ultimately their residents, in this digital age.

With the right standards and protocols in place, housing and care providers will benefit in the long term from this clarity.

NH

Carl Atkey is chief technology officer at Appello

 

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