Digital transformation in the care sector is no longer the future and the benefits of the technological revolution have been felt far and wide across the sector.
Portable diagnostics equipment has made the delivery of care easier, faster and more accurate; smart assistive technology has given patients and services users increased independence and improved rehabilitation; and advances in medical technology have cured some of the world’s deadliest diseases. More recently, the digitising of care planning and recording has allowed for more accurate, timely and secure records and the seamless sharing of information.
Despite this, and the numerous benefits that technologies have shown in all areas of care, we are still seeing some reluctance towards digital transformation. While there is a common misconception that this is down to many care professionals fearing technology, this is simply not the case.
Past research from Skills for Care revealed that 95% of those working in the sector use digital technology in their work; and that the great majority are strongly positive about the potential of digital technology to improve efficiency and quality of care services. We also know that digital transformations are occurring, because we work with care providers up and down the country who are looking to digitise their care records every day.
It is, therefore, not the fear of technology that acts as the barrier, but, in fact, the fear of change.
The perceived barriers to digital transformation
In our experience, there is a clear misunderstanding between what the perceived barriers are to adopting technology, versus what the actual barriers are.
Few worry about job automation. There are many instances where advancements in technology remove the need for physical people – you only need to go to your local supermarket to see self-service check-outs, or go online to realise how much of your daily life you can manage without interacting with a person.
In the care sector however, suggestions that Pepper the Robot will eventually replace care staff are disregarded because there are two key things that computers cannot impersonate: social intelligence and emotional interpretation. The adoption of technology in care is not about replacing human interaction, but facilitating more of it through time-saving.
In contrast, the biggest barrier that we do hear care providers talk about is their concern that their staff will not have the necessary skills or inclination to adopt technology. In reality, we actually find the opposite is true.
According to Skills for Care’s The State of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce in England, 2017, the average age of a care worker is 43 and a fifth are aged over 55. Data from Statista shows that in these age groups, smartphone ownership is at 88% and 47% respectively. So, the physical use of technology is not alien. With a new younger generation of care workers coming into the sector, all of whom have grown up using technology, confidence in ability is only likely to increase.
The level of notes we have to record in care is often a point of contention and this can also act as a barrier. However, the fact of the matter is that we have to record notes, because without doing so, we have no method of evidencing care. After all, ‘if it wasn’t written down, it didn’t happen’.
It’s not about working out how we can get away with recording less information, but instead how we can improve the amount of high-quality information we record in the least amount of time. This is exactly what digital solutions allow you to do.
Further to this, technology also allows you to make use of all of that recorded information, so that it can be better used to directly benefit care; rather than being filed away in a locked room.
Effective change management is key
As we’ve discussed, the problem, usually, is not care team capability or the use of the actual technology, but how the digital transformation process is approached, and the tools and support provided during this process.
Going from paper to electronic care notes and care plans is not just a change in the physical process, but also to the content that is recorded. As a result, the approach to managing the change must address culture as much as technology.
From a management perspective, the capabilities of a digital system, especially when it comes to access to records, ease of reporting and health tracking, can lead to overcomplication. Rather than taking it step-by-step, people can be consumed by the detail potential and for example, rush to increase the information in care plans, which can slow down effective implementation.
What’s crucial is that care providers tackle each change separately. For instance, first stick to mastering the change in methodology from written to digital notes, recording the exact same content. Then, once the technology is being used well, look to improve the level and detail of content recorded and start maximising the benefits.
Before you start your digital transformation journey
Before you start your digital transformation journey, first and foremost, you need to ensure the technology is suitable for the care you provide, the people you support and the people who provide that care.
Two elements are critical for effective adoption:
- Ease of use
The technology has to be easy-to-use and well-designed. It’s not just about functionality, but the look and feel of the technology as well. Is it enjoyable to use? Is it intuitive? Does it follow a logical process? Too often these aspects are overlooked in care technology, when it is actually critical to successful integration into care practice. You want to empower your care teams. Provide them with technology that works for them, that is intuitive and simple to use, so that the experience is positive and the transition as smooth and efficient as possible.
Every care service and every person that you care for is different. You must ensure that the electronic solutions you select are customisable to your needs. The objective is to be able to record more information in a more time-efficient way, and the care you provide should not be dictated by features. Rather, the system should be adaptable and enable you to effortlessly record what you want and need to.
During the digital transformation
When you have chosen the right provider for your service, try implementing the following change management process.
- Open communication
Adopt an open, educational approach, rather than ‘forcing’ change on care staff. Talk to the care teams and services, explain why this technology is being introduced and the benefits to them. This is not ‘just another thing’ they have to do and be aware of. Yes, it takes a change, and that will take some getting used to, but make sure you provide a platform for staff to raise any concerns and thoughts. Get your team on board and create a culture of empowerment and growth so that staff understand the importance of the technology and want the adoption to be successful.
- Take responsibility and accountability
It is essential that someone owns the transformation as a project, either by allocating dedicated time to the change management process or by delegating such a role to an experienced company. Having one point of contact ensures all stakeholders know who to approach with any questions or concerns. It also ensures that there is control and visibility across the process, so that key milestones and deadlines are achieved; minimising any risk of inconsistencies and delays.
- Plan, implement and feed back
Digital transformation, like any change, is a journey, and clearly documenting a road map of how this change is going to take place, and who needs to be involved and when, will make this change effective. This could include a timeline and resource allocation for data transfers, staff training, trialling the system, reviewing feedback and resolving any issues. During this phase, it’s also important to celebrate successes. Each part of the journey is a step closer to the end goal and recognising milestones and individual achievements will aid the change management process.
Digital transformation will never be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ scenario, and as we’ve discussed above, the power of technology comes just as much from how it is being used, as the technology itself.
The care sector is in a very strong position in that it is still considered an early adopter; meaning there is room for growth and improvement which presents care providers with a great opportunity to ride the crest of the wave and shape the future rather than follow in the footsteps of others.
CQC has already begun to show signs of digital adoption in their 2016-2021 strategy, recognising the role technology is playing in blurring boundaries between hospital, private and community care; whilst committing to ‘learn alongside providers who offer new care models or use new technologies, to encourage innovation’.
Embrace this innovation, choose the right solution for you and give special consideration to the change management process, and you might be surprised by how much technology can enhance the quality of care your service provides.
Luis Zenha Rela is Head of Digital Transformation at Nourish. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @NourishCare
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