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Getting IT right

Simon Bentley and Claire Ferrari discuss how advances in the technology behind mobile devices, networks and cloud computing are helping to drive improvements and efficiencies across the care sector.

Technological change is inevitable, and care providers should view it in a positive light and embrace it. Technology has potential to minimise the risk of errors and increase efficiency, improving the quality of care provided while maximising one-on-one time care staff spend with clients. This is particularly useful in domiciliary care, where care assistants need the right information at their fingertips in order to deliver the right care and also to be able to get to their next appointment as quickly as possible.

Practical benefits

The proliferation of digital technology brings with it a wealth of practical benefits for providers. Ultimately, it helps them to deliver a better service to customers and to mitigate risks. Such practical benefits may include:

  • Improvements in planning and co-ordinating care, such as scheduling domiciliary care appointments, to improve efficiency and reduce the risk of missed visits.
  • Simplification of day-to-day processes, triggering automatic referrals to external practitioners, such as doctors, where necessary.
  • Tracking and recording service delivery and administration of medicines.
  • Reduction in time-consuming, handwritten paperwork.

IT systems can help providers to reduce the risk of falling foul of industry pitfalls, such as incorrect medication administration, which can impact on the business, clients and staff. Aside from the detrimental impact on clients, quality of care, reputational damage and the risk of litigation, providers also need to consider how such failings can impact on insurance claims.

This is increasingly important because the number of insurers in the care sector has dwindled, partly due to high numbers of claims. Those insurers remaining in the sector scrutinise the way care businesses manage and mitigate risks, and this can affect premiums or even, in some cases, the ability to secure insurance cover at all. An active policy is, of course, a prerequisite for compliance with the Care Quality Commission (CQC): no insurance, no business. Staying at the forefront of technology helps providers to minimise risk and claims.

Management systems

Good examples of technology used on a practical level are technology packages to streamline back office and care delivery. These can create real efficiencies and provide documented evidence of procedures and processes. Management systems are becoming increasingly popular in the care industry. Some offer comprehensive solutions for achieving CQC compliance and enable businesses to exert strong management control over every aspect of providing high-quality and consistent care.

They can provide policies and procedures, written and maintained by experts, as well as care plan templates, service user and staff handbooks and forms for areas such as risk assessments, managing health and safety and medications.

Management systems and other software can play a big part in helping business run effectively and carry out care audits. These may bring vast improvements to the quality of service delivered and effectively help mitigate the day-to-day risks they face.

Apps and sensors

An increasing choice of smartphone and tablet apps make it easier for care staff to track what care has been delivered by whom and when.

There has also been an increasing use of in-home sensors, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and mobile devices for care homes and people receiving domiciliary care. These systems proactively monitor movement, temperature and even specifics such as how many times a medicine cabinet has been opened. They track expected parameters and, if an anomaly is detected, trigger an alert to care staff or the individual. The aim is to facilitate proactive social care.

Care providers that utilise developing technologies, while properly assessing and mitigating the inevitable challenges, could be onto a winner.

Benefits for clients

Aside from the practical benefits for providers, IT may benefit clients by empowering people to live as independently as possible, allowing them to be actively involved in making decisions about their own care.

Care providers can use mobile devices and software packages to work with clients, assisting them with goal setting and making plans, whilst tracking progress made towards these goals for review on a monthly basis.

This type of system can also be useful when recording information for care planning and advance care planning, as well as providing information on individual preferences in regard to pre-emptive best-interest decision-making.

Providers can assist clients with the use of mobile devices to help promote independence, enabling and encouraging them to connect with friends and family, via email and social media, as well as surf the internet to research hobbies, community activities and other areas of interest.

Involving and empowering clients and encouraging communication with the outside world is an enormously positive, forward-thinking approach to care. It is an approach that can drastically improve lives. Everyone knows that happy clients make for better-run care services and this helps to reduce risks.

IT challenges

Developing and using IT systems can have a wide range of benefits, however, they also pose challenges, including:

  • Compliance with data protection laws, including privacy and storage of data.
  • Data breaches (cybercrime).
  • Data loss.
  • Permissions.
  • Training staff.
  • Technology failure.
  • Rigidity and lack of personalisation (in some cases).

These challenges create additional risks, which are very real indeed and, if not properly assessed and mitigated, they can undermine any benefits gained. You only have to look at the data breaches involving large companies such as Carphone Warehouse and TalkTalk to see this is a very serious problem and one that needs to be dealt with properly.

It is imperative that providers, who store data connected with vulnerable individuals, obtain the relevant permissions and take steps to keep it safe and secure. Failure to do this means they run the risk of lawsuits for breach of data protection, not to mention reputation damage. Taking legal advice is essential, especially when it comes to contracts agreed with cloud-based IT service providers.

Training staff to use technology can be costly, but there are efficiencies to be gained once everyone is using it properly. Also, it is important to consider what happens if technology fails. Providers must have a contingency plan for this scenario, otherwise their entire business could grind to a halt, putting clients at risk.

The future

IT is an ever-changing sector with new innovations being developed all the time. It’s difficult to predict what could be available in the future.

It’s likely that voice-activated recording software may have useful applications in the future. Recording the delivery of care is hugely important, but when care staff have to make handwritten notes and reports, this can create issues. Such issues could include legibility of handwriting, language barriers, literacy, learning difficulties such as dyslexia, or sometimes staff may be called away quickly to assist another client and not have the opportunity to record the care, or forget to record it altogether. If delivery of care is not recorded, or not recorded well, it can put a business at risk, especially if there is a need to provide evidence of care provision.

A far quicker method may involve care staff simply pressing a button on their smartphone and recording themselves talking. This could, with permission, include obtaining input or consent from the client. These sound bites could be automatically converted into text, using sophisticated voice recognition software, and logged in the system.

A brighter future

Care providers that utilise developing technologies, while properly assessing and mitigating the inevitable challenges, could be onto a winner. They may experience significant improvements when it comes to efficiencies, quality assurance and mitigating risk. Ultimately, this leads to happy, well cared for clients.

Simon Bentley is Divisional Director of Howden’s Care Division (formerly CHIS and PrimeCare). Email: simon.bentley@howdengroup.com

Claire Ferrari is Director of ProRisk Care Consultancy. Email: claire@proriskcare.co.uk Twitter: @ProRiskCare

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