Helen Dempster, Chief Visionary Officer, Karantis360, examines why the effective and intelligent use of technology across the whole social care ecosystem will be essential to enabling more carers to improve the quality and personal aspect of care for the estimated 446,000 of over 85s who are predicted to have ‘high dependency’ needs and to enable a greater number of people to live independently at home for longer
The social care needs for over-85s are predicted to double in the next 20 years according to The Lancet’s report ‘Forecasting the care needs of the older population in England’. While there’s no question that well-trained professionals are crucial to creating the best client experiences, the healthcare system should be adopting innovative digital solutions to keep up with this growing demand and to revolutionise care services.
As 130,000 days of care were lost in hospitals in just one month due to staff not being able to transfer patients to another part of the NHS or to council care, the implementation of technology to efficiently deliver a more proactive care service and maximise the value of the NHS is key. From apps that minimise the heavy workload for carers to the role of the Internet of Things in monitoring individuals, we are now at a turning point, and we must consider how technology can transform the care sector as we know it.
Due to the current resourcing issues in the healthcare industry, the distance put between clients and families and their care facilities is growing. And as we find that more family members are often geographically distant from their loved ones, the current care services are under even further pressure to ensure the older generation are happy, safe and receiving the level of care that their family expects. This is creating huge financial and mental stress not only for distant family members, but for the full-time carers as they try to keep up with patient demand.
Of course, most people don’t want to end up in a care home: according to Age UK, 97 per cent of the population would like to receive care in their own home. But the funding gap in social care – predicted by the Local Government Association to reach £3.5 billion by 2024/25 – is having a catastrophic knock-on effect on the NHS, with thousands of elderly patients stuck in hospital when they are well enough to go home because there is nobody to look after them.
While the health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said: ‘Tech transformation is coming’, to the NHS, what does that mean in practice? This is not just a case of doing the same things faster. Given the scale of the problem, technology must be leveraged to fundamentally reconsider the way the entire social care ecosystem operates.
A key role that technology must play in the care sector is to enable future carers to deliver a greater level of support for every client. This means minimising the admin burden and releasing carers to spend more time with patients. This stretched resource is under huge pressure to meet escalating care needs, and yet compelled to spend upwards of 20 minutes of a 30-minute visit filling in forms manually. And it is clear that this administrative work is having a negative impact on how they interact with their clients, with only 32 per cent of carers stating that they have as much social contact as they need. In addition to the sheer waste of essential, one-to-one client time, this paper-based information is also simply not stored in a way that enables easy sharing with stakeholders, from other carers to health providers and family members.
The implementation of the right technology will provide an efficient and innovative way of delivering more effective, personal domiciliary care. Having a non-intrusive system of IoT-based sensors extends the delivery of care to twenty-four-seven, ensuring carers are able to track habitual behaviour and spot changes in real time to allow for intervention when it is most needed. This real-time information will not only alleviate the pressure on carers and families alike but will provide a platform for those who are infirm or living with Alzheimer’s and dementia, to stay in the comfort of their own home with a better level of quality care.
This way of working will also have a positive impact on the ecosystem of local authorities, healthcare providers, NHS Trusts, GPs, registered nurses and care homes. The end-to-end digitisation of healthcare will help to coordinate these organisations to ensure the social care model can not only become more transparent, including for the family members, but also move from reactive to proactive.
When these sensors are used in tandem with innovative communication tools such as a connected apps, carers will be able to further support their clients. An easy-to-use mobile application can significantly minimise the admin burden and make it easier for carers to record more personal patient information – such as mood, important dates including birthdays or the anniversary of a spouse’s death – which can then support a far more personal care experience.
Additionally, this technology ensures the most up-to-date medical and personal facts are automatically shared not only with the local authorities and/or care agency but with the individual’s family members, giving them more visibility and addressing one of the huge causes of stress for those overseeing the care of a loved one. In this way, the traditional challenges of information-sharing between agencies can be overcome.
With a growing concern around the cost of providing care for older and more vulnerable adults, these digital solutions make financial sense. For local authorities, enabling individuals to remain safely and happily at home, rather than in care facilities, justifies the investment in new technology. This could really help reduce the predicted funding gap of £3.5bn and support the care resources available to ensure the system remains stable; while family members have the relief of immediate information on their loved one’s current state of health and mind.
And what’s truly exciting is that this is just the start. With a greater level of information, the social care model can be transformed to operate in a very proactive and most importantly personal manner that caters to the complex needs of every patient, reduces unnecessary hospital admissions and, ultimately, allows more patients to stay safely at home for longer.
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