Service deliveryAdult Social CareThe role of technology in adult social care

The role of technology in adult social care

How can technology ease the adult social care burden - both from a service delivery and financial perspective

Adult social care is big news at the moment – and with good reason. The changing nature of demand – increasingly, numbers of older people who are physically frail, many with dementia, more people with long term complex conditions – is placing unprecedented pressure on the system.

Then there’s the financial side. According to NHS Digital annual spending by local authorities on social care rose by £556m in 2016/17 to £17.5bn, new figures show. That constitutes a 3.3 per cent increase in cash terms. What’s more, a survey by Capita with members of the County Councils Network (CCN), 94% of respondents felt that adult social care was the biggest financial pressure facing their council, and more than half felt that funding pressures they face are ‘severe’.

As a result, local authorities are looking for ways to reduce the pressures of adult social care – both from a service delivery and financial perspective – which in many cases involves technology.

Rhodri Rowlands, Principal Consultant at Agilisys, told us: “We believe digital has a vital role in enhancing care services, enabling reform and providing simple and practical solutions to service issues. That’s why the recent announcement by the LGA, in collaboration with NHS Digital, of funding for digital innovation in social care is welcome.

“In our work supporting local authorities across the UK, we see exciting and innovative uses of technology emerging. In nearly all cases, digital is playing a leading role in the adoption of bold new models of care and support. But this is not the case for all organisations. The challenges of rising demand and lack of money aren’t going away. Now is the time for local government to embrace digital to support the reform of social care services.”

 

A digital advantage

Nick Wilson, Managing Director – Public Sector, Health & Care – Advanced, agrees that technology is vital in delivering adult social care. Many organisations are refocusing to put technology at the heart of their strategies, because it can help relieve and has, in many cases, already helped reduce the administrative burden that care providers face. Going digital can help organisations get a step ahead in service provision, enabling them to compete in an increasingly challenging environment.”

While many local authorities are turning to cutting edge technology solutions, often built to specific needs – more can be found in our article about LGA funded initiatives here – Wilson adds that some relatively simple uses of technology can make a big difference.

“One of the biggest problems facing adult social care providers is managing the complex network of stakeholders, clients, staff and suppliers, all while maintaining a high quality of service and care. Many companies still use a range of disparate systems designed to handle specific tasks, and hence operate in silos.

“The simple integration of these functions can provide the kind of operational insight that can help providers quickly streamline processes and eradicate areas of wastage. Small and sensible changes in the way records are stored and accessed can revolutionise the way care teams work – and care providers making these changes are already seeing results. By integrating their entire infrastructure some organisations are transforming the way they provide care, such as mobilising community care through secure remote access to relevant data and maintaining records on the go, while tracking ongoing care costs centrally.”

 

Cloud solutions

Wilson adds that, just as is the case with other digital transformation projects in the public sector, cloud can be used to help with adult social care delivery.

“Cloud computing can free care organisations from the need to host basic processes physically,” he says. “By hosting data-heavy systems in the cloud, care providers can become more agile and responsive. They are also able to reallocate much needed budgets and, crucially, be assured they are using the latest software and security updates.

“Where we see care providers making the biggest advances is when they truly integrate their organisations’ systems and processes to create one complete solution. With care management at the hub of an IT infrastructure, providers are able to view every operational area from one platform and make necessary adjustments to reduce waste or improve efficiency. By integrating internal systems, it’s also possible for organisations to keep a tighter control – and digital record – of their business activities, as well as ensuring they are compliant.”

 

Smart technology

When it comes to the physical environment, the use of sensors, embedded computers and robotic process automation are all crucial transformational technologies being used by local authorities to build ‘smart’ adult social care.

“Smartphones, smart meters, smart cars, smart homes…, smart seems to be everywhere these days,” says Simon Sheratt, IEEE fellow and professor of Biosensors at the University of Reading, who are currently involved in a research project on the topic (see below for more).

“While smart homes, such as those powered by Google Home and Alexa are becoming very popular, research is also creating technologies to enable smart homes help in the healthcare and management of various health conditions and disabilities of its residents.

“Creating technology that aids people to live in their own homes for longer is not just an exercise in cutting healthcare costs, but helping people feel happier and safer in their own home. Not only can healthy smart homes monitor for emergency events, they can help in the management of long-term conditions, and even feedback to occupants information to help them live more healthy lives.”

Sheratt points to examples such as sensors in a smart wearable device that can track a person’s location and more subtle movements such as arm and wrist movement (which could indicate the person is eating or drinking), while sensors in items such as fridges and taps can offer insight into consumption habits and schedule. Combined, these sensors can provide significant amounts of data, which enable the healthy smart home to remind occupants to eat or drink to avoid dehydration – as often happens with those suffering from dementia – or alter routes around the house if they keep falling in the same place.

“As technology becomes more ubiquitous, consumers now have the ability to use technology to empower them into looking after aspects of their own health,” continues Sheratt. “Perhaps the first technology for healthy homes was the Lifeline system, deployed across the US and Canada in the early 1970’s, created from a push-button alarm system to inform healthcare providers of such incidents as falls. Nowadays, the general approach is to pervasively monitor occupants and use computing power to infer events.”

 

Assistive technology

The use of technology in the home is gathering momentum within councils. Hampshire County Council’s use of Alexa has been well documented, while Bath & North East Somerset Council has made strides in piloting a range of assistive technology (AT) apps and devices within their reablement and rehabilitation service. For this, the council is developing an integrated approach with AT as a central part of the referral and assessment process and care packages.

One of the LGA Social Care Digital Innovation Programme initiatives, it’s hoped that the positive outcomes of this project will:

  • Increase in number of accepted referrals to Reablement
  • Decrease in number of therapist visits needed per day
  • Number of people who accept/reject AT
  • Reduction in number of visits for reassurance
  • Reduced costs of care packages

Impact for clients:

  • More personalised care
  • Greater independence
  • Instant response and support to issues
  • Increased dignity from the reduction of face-to-face non-personal care

Impact for professionals:

  • Sustainability of provision and management of costs
  • Satisfaction of helping service users get the best care and maintain their independence

Impact for the council:

  • Beyond cost savings, the council will be at the forefront of innovation, introducing technology delivering a more personalised and cost-efficient care for people with learning disabilities in Supported Living settings

Cost savings:

  • An estimated saving of £2,000 per annum per user means that the pilot will save the council £180,000 over five years.
  • All potential savings will be identified during the initial assessment before any technology is installed.
  • After six to eight weeks they will conclude whether the technology is generating a saving and providing sufficient care.
  • After rolling out the project to 75% of supported living service users, the estimated (conservative) gross savings over 10 years is £5.1m.

Inventive, forward thinking and creative solutions to local challenges in social care are really starting to make a difference to service delivery and financial management. With plenty of plans in place for new technology to be shared, the impact of adult social are care technology will only accelerate.

  • Read more: There’s still time to apply for new funding for digital pilots that benefit people who access adult social care and improve services. The application deadline is 4pm on 1 June 2018 – for more information click here.

 

A research project

A leading research project, IRC-SPHERE (www.irc-sphere.ac.uk), operated from Bristol University, with Southampton and Reading Universities, and several other partners has been considering the technologies and the data processing for residential healthcare.

Its technology, based on environmental, wearable, video and big data is currently being deployed in 100 homes in Bristol as part of major trial. Reading University is conducting research into Healthy Smart Homes through smart wearable devices (www.reading.ac.uk/wearables) for the management of falls in the home for people with Parkinson’s disease and stroke.

The research is not only aimed at detecting falls, but also detecting near-fall events so people can learn what events are causing them to stumble and reduce the likelihood of falls in the future. Current research is also pointing to the ability for a smart home to predict the current emotion of its occupants, and to extend the smart home from indoor to outdoor enabling the health benefits from being outside.

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