Research on how the elderly use technology is scant and Harry Bailes aims to fill that gap.

Bailes’ health IT startup, Family Health Network, has developed a software platform that connects the elderly to their family and their doctors. The Research Triangle Park-based company will lead a one-year study evaluating how the elderly use the company’s software and what changes can be made to improve the technology.

Bailes, president of Family Health Network, said that the reason to conduct this research is simple: “Some people are getting left behind by technology.”

Family Health Network has landed a $190,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct its research. Bailes’s company is not experienced in user research and will partner with the Institute on Aging at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on the project. UNC is recruiting between 20 and 30 individuals for the study.

The study will evaluate how the elderly use Family Health Network’s web-based software called “Connect for Life.” Its features include reminders to take medications as well as the ability for caregivers – family members or physicians – to remotely check and monitor the user’s health status and medication use. Users operate the software via a touchscreen computer. Caregivers can check in on any web-enabled device, including smart phones.

The software also includes social networking-like capabilities with lists of friends and their contact details along with photo albums. Bailes said that among the study’s objectives is finding out whether the elderly will use such technology and if so, whether it will improve their lives.

Connect for Life launched at the start of the year. Family Health Network has placed the product with continuing care centers. But Bailes said that the product has also piqued interest from researchers, who see the communication capabilities as a potential way to have regular real-time interaction with study subjects while they are in their homes.

Depending on the results of the phase 1 part of the NIH small business innovation grant, the company could apply for a $1.5 million in phase 2 funding. That money would go toward a larger study of elderly patients who want to use technology to live independently.

Family Health Network’s Chief Knowledge Officer Doug Patton is the principal investigator of the phase 1 study. Institute of Aging staffers Jennifer Craft-Morgan and Cherie Rosemond will lead UNC’s research efforts on the project.

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