Following the publication of a White Paper warning of the disruption facing 1.7m people who rely on telecare as UK telecoms providers shift from analogue to digital infrastructure, we find out how Hampshire County Council is successfully making the necessary moves.
With 9,000 vulnerable people using conventional analogue care technology solutions, Hampshire County Council (Hants) faces a bigger challenge than many as it considers the implications of the coming shift to digital infrastructure.
However, working closely with its provider, PA Consulting’s Argenti Telehealthcare Partnership, the Council is determined to make the most of the change. This means looking beyond the usual technology and thinking about how innovation in other sectors can be leveraged to deliver outcomes for people in need of care and support.
Hants and Argenti are working with Amazon to develop new ‘skills’ (Amazon’s term for apps) that can be delivered by Alexa through the Echo, the Dot or future iterations of the voice-activated online assistant.
Fifty vulnerable people across the county will receive an Alexa service as part of a pilot funded by the Local Government Association. The funding will cover the devices, the development of new skills and the support needed to ensure people are comfortable interacting with technology in this new way. Crucially, the impact for individuals and the Council will be rigorously evaluated and reported.
The first skill will focus on reminders: for example, to take medication, to hydrate, to lock the front door. A second skill will link with the time recording system of domiciliary care providers, so Alexa can quickly and accurately answer the question ‘where’s my carer’? These skills will, of course, be in addition to the out-of-the-box capabilities that Alexa brings, from playing news, local weather and music, to reading e-books and providing stimulation through games and quizzes.
The principle underpinning the shift to a digital programme in Hants is to “start with why”. By focusing on the risks that service users face and the outcomes they hope to achieve (like greater independence, or avoidance of a spell in hospital), the Council aims to avoid drifting into a simple ‘like for like’ swap of analogue telecare kit for digital.
The focus on ‘why’ broadens the options immeasurably: Hants is not simply looking for new technology that can do what today’s telecare does (albeit digitally), but wants to find new ways to address different problems and deliver previously unachievable outcomes. For some service users, the answer will be Alexa. For others, it could be their digital TV or mobile phone.
In each case, if technology in care is to deliver on its longstanding promise, the evidence of outcomes achieved and other costs reduced or avoided must be robust.