Matt Hancock was appointed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in July 2018. In his speech after taking office, he identified technology as one of his early priorities for the health and social care sector.
It’s unsurprising that technology is on Mr Hancock’s agenda for social care. In the last year, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) updated its Key Lines of Enquiry (KLOEs) with a new focus on technology, and GDPR has come into force. This has created an atmosphere where technology is becoming increasingly accepted and necessary in social care.
Up until now, our sector has struggled to keep up with the advancements in the digital world. Decades after other industries transitioned to using computers for work, care providers continued to evidence care on paper, as the care environment meant they had no desk to use a desktop. However, in the last 10 years, technology has evolved to include mobile computers, such as smartphones and wearables. This means that care and nursing staff can use computers in their daily work and reap similar time and efficiency savings as other industries.
Why adopt technology?
If integration between health and social care is to occur, it is vital that care providers adopt technology, or they risk being left behind.
The benefits of technology are widely acknowledged. Technology enables staff to be more efficient, so they can spend more time with residents; it also gives them therapeutic tools that benefit residents with dementia, for example. It can help providers to increase visibility and transparency, engaging families in care updates. It can provide information to reduce risks to the business; increase communication and sharing of information among staff and other professionals such as GPs and hospitals; and reduce delayed transfers of care.
Furthermore, solutions can give managers information needed by regulatory bodies; to increase funding if necessary; and ensure GDPR compliant practices for record-keeping. It can also improve staff morale, with improved quality of care, time savings and transparency of information across the organisation.
Barriers to adoption
The value that technology brings to the sector is clearly identified, but barriers to installing it still exist. Reluctance to adopt technology due to fear of change, worries about time and effort to adapt to a new system, and the cost of technology itself are all challenges to be overcome. Managers understandably have fears about transitioning to new systems as the risk of having gaps in documentation can lead to CQC investigations, safeguarding alerts and be a serious risk to residents and the organisation.
Additionally, there are concerns among the workforce about how easy technology is to use, and how easy it is to adopt. Typically, staff will include people for whom English is a second language, people with dyslexia, and people who are not IT-literate. Technology must also be designed for environments where there may be blackspots of WiFi, or no WiFi at all, so the technology needs to work both online and offline.
Balancing the effectiveness of technology against the cost is also a barrier to adoption, especially in an often under-funded industry. Providers need to know that the technology they buy will provide them with exactly what they need and have confidence that it won’t fail.
In CQC’s updated KLOEs, there is a question (E1.3) that specifically asks how technology and equipment are used to enhance care. But how can you ensure you choose technologies that will enhance the quality of care and support at your service?
It might seem a daunting task. While it may look intimidating from the outside, choosing and implementing an effective system can be straightforward. These six steps should help you move forward with technology; they focus on the first questions you need to ask yourself, through to managing the implementation and seeing the outcomes of the system.
Step 1: Identify your primary goal
Identify your primary goal and what you want to achieve. For instance, is the motivation GDPR and wanting to keep your care records secure and compliant, but still accessible for your staff to update and read whenever they need?
Electronic care recording will help to improve the quality, visibility and quantity of care records evidenced by staff. Applied technology like wearables, on the other hand, are worn by residents to monitor a whole range of medical and physical conditions and ensure optimum wellbeing.
If the technology is good, there will be subsidiary benefits. For instance, staff being freed up from documentation means that they have more time to spend with residents.
Step 2: Assess the challenges you and your team face
Think carefully about the challenges your service faces. Speak to staff who are closest to residents about the areas that could be made more efficient and effective. What could be done better in your organisation?
Then, think differently about the problem to solve it and evolve working practices. For instance, the accepted way to check on people during the night currently is by going into their room multiple times. But alternative solutions, such as acoustic monitoring, are safer and lead to less disturbed sleep. Technology is only worth adopting if it is going to move you closer to your goal, whether that’s delivering person-centred care, providing quality of care, or supporting residents’ independence.
Step 3: Do your research
Start to look for solutions that will help you achieve your goal and solve problems in the service. There are several ways to find out about different technology providers. Trade shows such as Health+Care in London or Care Show in Birmingham are where lots of technology providers exhibit so you will have an opportunity to browse and gather a lot of information in a day. Industry bodies like Care England and the National Care Forum host smaller events, often they will have a ‘technology day’. Your care association may also host local events specifically about technology.
Don’t discount the value of speaking to other care homes directly or through local care association meetings about what technology they’ve tried or use. Ask around for recommendations and see if you can arrange a site visit to see the technology in action. Some care homes have developed certain areas of their care homes to demonstrate the innovations they use, for instance WCS Care group have an ‘Innovation Hub’ that welcomes anyone in social care to attend.
The internet is also your friend; a simple Google search will bring up organisations that provide technology that you may not have come across. Additionally, forums and social media groups exist to start conversations about the technology that others use in their own care homes.
Step 4: Shop around to find the right solution for you
Once you’ve found providers you want to investigate, focus on the size of your organisation. If you are a single care home or a small group, you may want to ask for a site visit to see the system in action at another care home before you invite the technology provider in for a demonstration.
If you are a larger organisation, you can contact technology providers with a request for information (RFI) where they will fill in the information you require. However, a downside of an RFI is that the questions you ask need to be very specific for the goal you want to achieve. You risk boxing providers into answering questions that don’t show the full scale of their technology and you could end up with a system that isn’t quite right for your needs.
Step 5: Arrange presentations and demonstrations
Arrange presentations and demonstrations with providers. You will want to see at least two systems, more if you can. Prepare questions to ask each technology provider to ensure you’re choosing the system you need. No question is a bad question, and you will need to find out how the provider will work with you to embed their system into your organisation.
For instance, the outcome you want to achieve to improve your service won’t happen if the solution is cumbersome and unintuitive for care workers to use. Ask about what training and support is offered, and how quick and easy it should be to get up and running – and verify that with other users.
If you are a larger group, now is the time to arrange tenders based on that information gathering.
Step 6: Manage the change
Once you’ve chosen your system, get people in your organisation to support the changes. Encouraging a 65 year old care worker to use a smartphone to record care may not happen overnight, but pointing out the benefits and supporting them with the change will increase their confidence with technology.
Assigning a project manager if possible will help to manage the process of moving to the technology and ensuring that the goals you want to achieve are realised. There will be an implementation period, and, if you are a part of a group, a trial period or pilot study at one or two services will help to ensure a straightforward rollout at the remaining homes.
A key priority
Matt Hancock’s early priority of technology is a motivating factor for the care sector to embrace technology, along with GDPR, and the technology KLOEs. Technology will help social care and health achieve integration and improve efficiency and quality of care.
The barriers to adopting technology are very real, and the risks associated with ‘standing still’ are only going to get greater. But with clear goals and a process for selecting solutions, the outcomes will provide real value for providers, staff and residents for many years.
How have you embraced technology? What barriers have you faced? Share your views and feed-back on this feature below.