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New a service-matching app for HK’s elderly

Image Credits: HKU, Press Release

In recent years, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Hong Kong have adopted the concept of TimeBank to promote mutual help among elderly people and to encourage them to make good use of their free time.

By providing volunteering services, elderly people can earn and save time credit in exchange for services later such as escorts, household repairs, grocery delivery, etc. However, due to the lack of appropriate IT support, NGOs are burdened with the task of handling the related clerical work, such as data input and matching service recipients with volunteers.

Thus, a team of scholars at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has developed a new system, namely “HINCare” (Heterogeneous Information Network for Elderly-Care Helper Recommendation), which helps to manage the workload and logistics. The system can also store useful statistics and help NGOs formulate long-term strategies and identify the needs of elderly people through data analytics.

By matching service requests with volunteers in the community intelligently, the system stretches elderly people’s potential in serving the community and helps them develop mutual help and support networks. It also facilitates the development and expansion of Time Bank community projects. The system came out of the lead Professor’s two recent projects supported by the Research Grants Council (RGC)’s General Research Fund (GRF).

The Professor stated that the implementation of the Time Bank project encourages mutual help and support relationship-building in the community. However, NGOs are much burdened by the amount of clerical work in maintaining the system. The HINCare system involves a gigantic heterogeneous information network (HIN) which gathers big data such as social networks and profiles of senior citizens at elderly centres run by NGOs.

Real-time transaction of the service time credit in an NGO’s Time Bank system is recorded automatically without the need for any manual input. This saves a lot of time and clerical work. Furthermore, the large amount of data in services provided can be used intelligently by the system to recommend potential full-time/part-time/voluntary helpers to NGOs.

The HINCare system comprises a web portal of an NGO’s backend administration and a mobile application for elderly clients and volunteers. The Time Bank system can also be extended to support the administration of healthcare vouchers and social service vouchers through further adaptation, hence enabling elderly people to have access to information on various medical and social services, make service bookings or payments through the enhanced one-stop mobile app.

NGOs will be able to track and understand from the system’s backend web portal the various medical and social services used and required by the elderly, the frequency of volunteer engagement, the participation level of community activities, etc. These statistics and information can allow NGOs to formulate better elderly services policy and evaluate if follow-up services for particular individuals are needed.

The team is now partnering with Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui Tseung Kwan O Aged Care Complex (SKHTKOACC) and Christian Family Service Centre (CFSC) Elderly Service Sections in implementing the project.

SKHTKOACC is a pioneer in the Time Bank project and has launched a “Weaving of Wellness – Seniors Mutual Help Development Project” – a 3-year project in Tseung Kwan O. The Service Director of SKHTKOACC stated that the app can facilitate service matching and reduce clerical work. The complex intends to implement the project in more housing estates in the area. In the long run, it can help society rethink its elderly service policy and resource allocation.

The mobile app was launched since January 2020 and has now over 800 users who have issued 1,500 service requests, including accompanying services, transportation assistance (e.g., to hospitals), and participation in group events, etc.

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