Service deliveryAdult Social CareSocial Care: Transformation is coming and technology needs to evolve

Social Care: Transformation is coming and technology needs to evolve

Mark Raeburn, director at OLM, provides his insight into why and how the social care sector must continue to demand better technology from suppliers

This month there was a first for the BBC. Panorama for the first time ever covered the same subject for two weeks. The focus was the crisis in social care. Somerset County Council made the courageous decision to put social care on the political agenda and highlight the struggle.

There is hope this will spur the Government into action and more social care funding will be announced. With Brexit looming, whether extra funding will materialise is unclear. What is clear, however is that fundamental transformation is needed, and will happen to the social care sector.

As the Panorama programme showed, social workers deal with crucial decisions in a high stress environment. Social workers do not need to add inefficient technology to their to-do lists, no-one does. Unfortunately, the majority of the software in the sector has been built on old technology, has performance issues and is clunky to use. It is also not flexible enough to deal with new models of care.

Why are our work lives digitally behind?

Last year, a blog by Lynn Romeo (Chief Social Worker for Adults at the department of Health and Social Care) highlighted the tech problem. Lynn was interviewing a former social worker, Tommy Reay, regarding the availability of technology in social care. Tommy rightly said that at home you have access to the latest and greatest technology, whereas at work, you have access to the bare minimum. You can record information in the systems available but doing so efficiently is beyond what is available in many cases.

To this point, Tommy said, “I didn’t and couldn’t in my social care roles. Yet in my personal life I don’t have to be at home to communicate with other people, order a taxi, plan a holiday or sort out my finances. So why are our work lives digitally behind?”

Tommy was referring to the benefits of mobile cloud technology. These additions may seem innocuous but in practice they can make a real difference. They can provide freedom from the office to ensure that those who need assistance can get it. Efficient and person-centred technology is the way forward, so why don’t organisations supply these types of solutions to social care?

Possibly, due to lack of funding the majority of the current social care software suppliers in the sector have failed to invest and update their underlying technology. There is a concern that the majority of local authorities won’t have a technology framework that will be suitable for the future.

Exciting possibilities, against a concerning backdrop

Despite the current pressures and backdrop, there are exciting possibilities in social care and a ‘can do’ attitude emerging as shown by the Social Care Futures movement. New strength based ways of working are being introduced to great effect such as the Three Conversations model ®, and the digital revolution and opening up of the internet of things offer significant new possibilities. The benefits associated with the latest technology are significant.

Usability improvements: simple, yet effective

By simply improving the usability of social care software, and automation of administrative tasks and mobile working significant time savings can be achieved which means the social worker can spend longer with their client, listening and understanding their needs.

When we looked to develop a social care IT software from the ground up using cloud native technology, we knew we needed it to work for those that would be using it every day, the social workers.

ECLIPSE has been designed with input from over 500 social workers from a range of local authorities across the UK. Through workshops and user testing, a system was designed that supported the way that social workers work.

Multi-agency working

Through using technology, citizens, providers, professionals can all be brought together with shared information and understanding of how to improve that person’s life.

By sharing information social workers are able to deliver a better standard of care, for example in the London Borough of Enfield is implementing ECLIPSE in both the social care department and its care homes. This means that social worker can always see the latest details on their clients who are in the care home.

Empowering citizens

Using technology citizens can assess information about their care and make their own care plan and decisions.

The citizen’s lives is empowered, providing access to information and resources to self-help and make best use of community assets. The latest technology also supports better decision making through real time access to multi agency recording.

Joined up care

By 2020, 30 billion things will be connected to the internet. With new technological advancements happening at an ever increasing speed it will be interesting to see the latest developments in wearables, sensors, virtual assistants, (Chatbots), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and even Blockchain in 3-5 years time. The best approach to realising the benefits of the latest technical advancements will be an open standards platform approach. NHSX are dictating standards for the procurement of new health software systems, which will drive change. However, no set standards will exist for social care software. Without these standards there is a significant concern that local authorities could be left behind.

Unfortunately, the move to an open standards platform approach is a considerable investment for software providers and their Private Equity owners, and one that is unlikely to occur unless their hand is forced.

Transformation is coming

There is no doubt that transformation is coming. The answers lie not just in digital. New ways of working, change management and technology need to come together to deliver a new way; the possibilities are truly exciting.

Whilst there has been clear enthusiasm for the technology itself from health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, the real driver of transformation will be ensuring that user needs are at the heart of the design of any digital technology. Software systems will need to be user focused, flexible, agile and responsive to be able to deal with new ways of working.  If they are not local authorities will be forced back to paper to record, that will hinder the progress of the transformation.

Social care deserves better; the transformation is coming and technology needs to evolve.

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