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  • SH12C081ONLINESENIORS March 13, 2012 -- Rita Slotnick, 80, uses the touch-screen feature on a new home computer to answer a daily health survey. Slotnick was among the first to try out new software and hardware for seniors. (SHNS photo by Harry Lynch / Raleigh News & Observer)
  • SH12C082ONLINESENIORS March 13, 2012 -- Family Health Network's simple user interface has a photo carousel and a personal message center for writing emails and recording voice notes. (SHNS photo by Harry Lynch / Raleigh News & Observer)
Thursday, April 12, 2012

Special touch-screen computer eases seniors online

Lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Harry Bailes started Family Health Network in 2009 with a simple goal: to make technology usable and useful for seniors. “Older people … have become disconnected,” he said. “Their health is dependent upon the roles that they play.”

Bailes, 65, the company’s CEO, said the burgeoning economic and psychological costs associated with living longer inspired him to create a way to bring families back together. The software allows seniors to keep in touch with their “circle of care” through an interface that facilitates video chats, emails, appointment scheduling and the sharing of family photos. A computer application called Connected For Life demystifies the intricacies of technology for seniors and allows families and friends to monitor the health of their elderly loved ones.

“I think I would be really missing out on a lot of activities and pleasures without the computer,” said Rita Slotnick, 80, who was part of an initial pilot program and now uses the computer several times a day.

Connected for Life has a two-pronged approach. On one hand, the software serves as an aging services platform, targeting people who want to age in the comfort of their own homes while staying connected to their families. The software also helps strengthen the ties between seniors and their health care providers.

The first step in creating the software was designing a simple interface that seniors would find inviting: a photo carousel and a personal message center. The center allows seniors to compose emails, choose from preset messages and record voice notes.

The next step was removing the physical keyboard, creating touch-screen capabilities or allowing for point-and-click commands.

The software costs roughly $30 a month per family, and Bailes said he has about 100 clients.

Other companies are targeting the same market as Family Health Network. Intel and General Electric have a joint venture to develop technologies for senior living communities while Telikin, a Pennsylvania company, makes a computer that comes with software designed for seniors.

Bailes argues that his company’s offering is unique. Telikin bundles hardware and software and can’t simply be downloaded onto an existing computer, while GE and Intel are offering services at a different price point and selling their technology in a different way, he said.

Family Health Network has about a dozen employees, including contractors. Bailes said the company has received about $1 million from angel investors, grants and his own contributions.

The number of clients using Family Health Network’s software could soon increase if proposed programs that use Bailes’ technology are approved for funding.

As for Slotnick, she’s gone from being worried about breaking her computer to embracing all the things it can do.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.