Facebook gives NHS Portal video chat devices for care home residents

Facebook provides more than 2,000 of its Portal video call devices to NHS care home residents and patients to help them connect with loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic

  • Facebook is helping care homes keep in touch with loved ones during lockdown 
  • 2,050 Portal units will be sent to residents of care homes and other UK facilities 
  • Portal is smart display that tracks users movements during video chats online 

Facebook is providing its Portal video call devices to care home residents and patients to help them connect with loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic.

The social network will supply 2,050 units for free to hospitals, care homes and other settings including hospices, in-patient learning disability and autism units.

It has already supplied 50 Portal devices to pilot sites in Surrey, with Manchester, Newcastle, London, Essex and other areas to follow this week. 

It’s hoped the devices will ease loneliness during lockdown, especially for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, who are most at risk of COVID-19.

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Facebook Portal The wide-angle camera on Facebook’s 10-inch telephone keeps you in frame, follows you around and automatically pans and zooms, while minimising background noise

 ‘With the global pandemic and social distancing measures, the ability to stay connected is more important than ever,’ said Freddy Abnousi, head of health technology at Facebook.   

‘That’s why we are piloting a programme with NHSX to provide Portal devices in hospitals and other care settings to support patients and help reduce social isolation.’   

WHAT IS FACEBOOK PORTAL?  

Facebook announced two video chat devices, the Portal and Portal+. 

Portal and Portal+ are equipped with Amazon’s Alexa, so they respond to voice commands.

Facebook Messenger powers the devices’ video calling features. 

Here’s what they can do: 

  • Make and receive video calls with Messenger users and people who don’t have Messenger. 
  • Order groceries using Alexa.
  • Play music on Spotify or Pandora using Alexa. 
  • Scroll through your favorite Facebook photos. 
  • See who’s online on Facebook Messenger. 
  • Receive updates on Facebook friends’ birthdays.
  • View videos on Facebook Watch and other services. 

Some care homes around the country had already been using Facebook Portal to connect during lockdown. 

CHD Living, a Surrey-based care home group, was specifically using Portal to connect residents with children and adults who don’t have grandparents, Wired reports.   

But now Facebook is officially getting behind the initiative by giving out 2,000 of the devices for free.       

‘Technology companies big and small continue to pledge their resources and expertise to support our NHS and social care system in these unprecedented times,’ said Iain O’Neil, digital transformation director at NHSX, the National Health Service’s digital branch. 

‘We are working hard to find and develop services that meet people’s equally unprecedented needs.

‘Technology has never been so important to providing one of life’s most essential things – the ability to communicate with the people we love regardless of where they are.’  

NHSX says specific care settings will be selected on the basis of Wi-Fi connectivity and ability to run devices in residents’ rooms or another private location.

Resident Pat Tolson chats via Facebook Portal to her family, helped by estate manager Neil Gandecha at the Foxholes Care Home as the spread of COVID-19

It is also exploring connectivity options for care homes without WiFi, such as using 4G hotspots or data-enabled tablets.  

‘It is great to see Facebook giving care home residents and patients the devices they need to connect with their family and friends at such a challenging time,’ said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

‘The technology sector is rising to the challenge at this moment of national emergency and we in government are working closely with them to help people stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.’  

Facebook’s line of Portal devices, which were first released in 2018 and currently start from £79, provide live video chat via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

Both Portal and Portal+ are equipped with 12 megapixel cameras that adjust based on whoever is entering the frame. They zoom out or in whenever someone moves around the room

Portal’s camera automatically tracks people’s movements and comes with Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant to respond to voice commands. 

Facebook has previously admitted it collects devise usage information to understand how Portal is being used and ‘improve the product.’ 

‘When you use Portal, we process the same kinds of information as when you use Facebook products on your other devices’, a spokesperson wrote in a blog post at the time of its release.

‘Some of this information, including the fact that you logged into your account or how often you use a feature or app, may be used to inform the ads you see across Facebook.

‘While we don’t listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls, or use this information to target ads, we do process some device usage information to understand how Portal is being used and to improve the product’, the firm said.  

Facebook also said that in the event the device crashes, ‘small fragments of video and audio information that are less than one second in length’ are sent to the firm. 

Portal’s original release was hot on the heels of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which was why many people on social media said they refused to have the device in their house.   

WHAT ARE TECH COMPANIES DOING ABOUT COVID-19?  

Facebook

The social network is giving the World Health Organisation as many free ads as it needs in a bid to get accurate health information to users of the platform as clearly as possible. 

It also launched the ‘Coronavirus Information Centre’ – a dedicated webpage with COVID-19 resources and advice. 

This is being promoted at the top of users’ News Feeds, directing them to the latest updates and guidance from the NHS and WHO.  

Facebook is also making its Workplace platform available to governments and emergency services for free in a bid to help those dealing with the coronavirus.

All government organisations globally, at a national or local level, are eligible to claim 12 months of free access to the premium tier of Workplace.  

Twitter

Twitter also recently resolved to delete tweets from its site that promote conspiracy theories, misleading or dangerous advice and other harmful ideas relating to coronavirus. 

Tweets that deny ‘established scientific facts’ and expert guidance regarding the virus will be marked as harmful and removed, the site said in a blog post. 

It gave examples of inaccurate tweets that would be deleted swiftly, including ‘people with dark skin are immune to COVID-19 due to melanin production’, ‘use aromatherapy and essential oils to prevent COVID-19’ and ‘the news about washing your hands is propaganda for soap companies, stop washing your hands!’.  

Google

Google also teamed up with WHO to launch an SOS Alert dedicated to the coronavirus, which appears at the top of search results when users type ‘coronavirus’. 

The search engine is prioritising information on the virus from the WHO, including official WHO updates on the spread of the virus and how to stay safe.   

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