In terms of health insurance, what would be considered a soft technology and hard technology? How are they used globally and domestically, and what are the technological barriers in both global and domestic settings? 

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There are two aspects to this question, that of uses of hard and soft technology within a health insurance company and its use by the people the company is insuring. Both affect profitability, customer service, and effective provision of health care.

Hard Technology: The term refers to physical and mechanical objects and processes. Offices, computers, phone answering systems, and claims processing software are examples of hard technology used internal to an insurance company. In patient care, canes, walkers, and medical alert devices would be examples of hard technology. Big data is normally defined as part of hard technology. The main advantage of hard technology is that it often provides low cost and high standardization. Its major limitations are lack of flexibility and a perception that it is cold or inhuman (e.g. people general prefer reaching a real human being to speaking to a computerized answering system).

Soft Technology: This term refers to either human beings or processes which require substantial amounts of human intervention. In the insurance industry, this might refer to the staff who work for your company, call center staff, or procedures designed to help staff make decisions. In patient care, soft technology might include hospice care, personal assistants, service animals, nursing care, or intelligent, patient controlled assistive devices. The main advantage of soft technology is flexibility and user preference. Having, for example, a nurse visit a senior "aging in place" may bring emotional benefits with a positive health benefit compared to using automated monitoring systems. 

Global Issues: Cost-benefit calculations and other choices vary tremendously depending on location. For example, high technology devices that provide increased functionality and cost savings in the western world may be expensive and unreliable in Africa or India where power supplies are unpredictable and logistics complex. On the other hand, personalized nursing care or high levels of human staffing at call centers can offer significant cost saving in Southeast Asia or Latin America due to lower wages. Also, the sophistication in operating technology and comfort with doing so varies across different cultures. As most wealthy countries are experiencing a demographic shift towards an aging population, hard technology solutions for both corporate operations and patient care becomes increasingly desirable. 

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