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Unlocking the Value of Digital in Care
Emma Smith, Business Consultant, Nourish

With a wealth of digital care management systems on the market, what are the benefits of me undertaking such a huge change in the way I work? What impact will it have on my business, staff and clients? And if I take the leap into the digital age, what do I need to know?

It is no secret that we are in the midst of a digital revolution; technology has changed how we work, how we interact with each other and how we access information. The care sector as a whole, however, is yet to fully embrace the power of digital and all the benefits that offers.

Now, more than ever, clients expect more from organisations, and care providers are not exempt from these increasing demands. Service users, family members, commissioners; all will want instant, secure, access to care notes and care information – anytime, anywhere. Those receiving care will also want to be more directly involved, contributing to the design of their own care plans and able to add to their own care notes. As care providers, it will be essential to meet these demands.

Through digital transformation and the Internet of Things (IoT), new and exciting technologies such as wearables and assistive devices, will undoubtedly change the way we provide care. However, to add tangible business value to the care service in the next two to three years, providers need be thinking about digitising and integrating their care management systems. Care teams across the UK are already making the transition to digital, benefiting from more personalised care, compliant and accurate audit trails and a greater degree of control across care monitoring and risk management.

Talking to three experienced care providers, who have embraced digital transformation, we sought to answer some key questions. How does the digital system impact at the individual level? What impact will the digital system have on staff and on the quality of care you provide? And how can you, as a care provider, make the most of digital transformation?

How does a digital system impact at the individual level?

A digital system can enable you to provide a better-quality service, but this cannot be solely achieved with the purchase of software. To truly transform the level of service provided, both in terms of quality and efficiency, care providers must engage in a bottom-up re-evaluation of the whole care delivery practice. It’s a chance to review current processes and structures of care information to promote a better quality of care. Through review and evaluation, care pathways, assessments and care plan structures can all be updated, reorganised and made more suitable to each specific environment.

A digital system further encourages a change of culture in note-keeping and saves you time. Instead of waiting till the end of a shift to write 8 to 12 hours’ worth of notes, care staff can use smart-enabled devices to record notes as they care. This not only ensures key information is not forgotten, but it changes the focus to in-depth, person-centred records that can be flagged for follow-up or used to trigger care plan reviews. This leads to a better quality of care, but it also gives higher assurance of compliance and a clear audit trail, meaning information can always be retrieved and relied on.

Paul Dennis-Andrews, Operations Manager at Encompass, has been working with a digital system since Spring 2016. He says, ‘The digital system has had a highly positive impact on the overall culture of our service – more than we ever would have thought. Teams are now positively communicating and sharing ideas and staff who might have had difficulties with the written word are enthused by the ability to speak into the device. The large collection of paper files has been replaced with discreet, modern devices that staff keep on their person, promoting highly person-centred support exactly how the individual would like to receive it. Every aspect of our system is customisable and can be evolved to need.’

What impact will a digital system have directly on our care staff?

For care staff, a good digital system delivers empowerment at the point of care. By using portable devices, care workers can record care as they go. Care staff are therefore able to focus a lot more on the person they are working with, and encouraged to record the person-centred care notes that inspectors say distinguish a care service. Recording notes alongside care also promotes greater clarity, adds useful context and ensures all information is recorded as soon as possible. It is an opportunity to really demonstrate the great quality of care being given; as is so often said, ‘If it isn’t written down – it never happened’.

To this end, Paul found that, ‘Despite some initial natural apprehension, our care staff have found using the electronic system to be a refreshing and efficient change to a longstanding process of handwritten documentation. Our care teams have become highly-motivated by the potential of the system and have produced some innovative and exciting ways to improve how the service is run.’

Simon Francis, IT Project Manager at Silverline Care has been working with a digital system since last year. He says, ‘The main thing for our care staff is that the paperwork is now a lot easier. Before this care workers were providing care and then trying to hold all that information in memory until the end of the shift. Care for clients is now much more to the point and accessible and everyone involved in the client’s care can see what has already been provided. This has made handover a lot easier. It also means input from the care staff feeds directly into the care plan, so it’s updated within minutes of it taking place. Recording in real-time means we don’t lose any important information.’

How will a digital system impact the quality of care we provide?

As Simon and Paul demonstrate, an integrated digital system provides care workers with the tools and information they need to provide personal and responsive care, and extra time to spend with the clients.

Care information on digital is also much easier to share securely. Innovative care providers can utilise existing resources and involve other parties from the very beginning; you could involve family and friends in the on-boarding process or allow informal carers to contribute directly to the care notes. Having a digital system opens up vast opportunities to get better connected with the whole circle of care. Ensuring information is shared securely with those who need to know, your care team will be more aware of the individual client’s needs.

Megan Read, Care Home Manager of Grassington House encourages her care workers to be sociable and engage with the residents when writing notes; this can mean having a cup of tea with the resident and a real conversation about how they are doing. Megan has found that, ‘Now residents know what the phone devices are used for, they prefer the digital system as care workers spend more time with them. Care staff can engage the residents so they can contribute to their own notes, keeping them much more involved. The digital system is also great for bi-annual reviews; I can connect my laptop to the main screen in the lounge so we can all see the information and have a really good chat about the care plan with the resident – it’s a lot more involved, but also efficient, and residents like to be able to see their care plans so easily.’

How will a digital system benefit managers?

For management, the digital system allows for more effective care monitoring, providing the essential tools required to manage at every level and maintains visibility of critical information in real-time.

Megan emphasises how the digital system has improved her ability to manage. ‘Because I have a digital overview of real-time information, I can easily monitor what is happening within the home. I can schedule things for the care team to be aware of and make sure that nothing is getting missed. My staff can ring me at any time and I can access the system and get up to speed; it’s taken a lot of pressure off for when I can’t be in the home. For when I’m conducting care plan reviews, I can look at the logs of care worker input to directly review and evidence any changes made. Previously, you would have had to look through endless paper files and you simply wouldn’t be able to go through it all.’

Paul added, ‘Monitoring the quality of support provided is much more efficient and less intrusive; utilising the Cloud to view live records. It is easier to ensure support is provided how the individual would like to receive it. Where changes are required, managers can make these instantly, either across the organisation or simply for the individual.’

Managers can also easily monitor the quality of information recorded. Simon found, ‘During the transfer to digital, we’ve been able to see the quality of our care plans. It is an impossible feat to trail through reams of paper plans for every single resident, but with digital we can check care plans easily and demand the quality we want. It’s meant we can really see the overall process and make sure the right care is being delivered in line with the resident’s wishes.’

How can a care provider make the most of the digital transformation?

The overall benefits of moving to a digital care management system are vast and multi-faceted; but how can you as a care provider make the most of the transformation?

  1. Internal support

For a smooth and efficient transition, there will need to be strong board-level support to align all stakeholders and an in-house ‘centre of excellence’ team of highly-skilled staff that can focus on digitising and integration. Paul agreed, ‘To make the most out of electronic management, a provider must be committed to change, with a fully-equipped staff team who believe in it.’

  1. Involve your staff

Gain feedback direct from the care team; listen to the everyday challenges the team faces and assess how they can be overcome. Simon said, ‘Ensure the staff that will be using the system are also involved in the decision-making and transition. These are the people who will directly use the system and will raise queries or concerns. It has to be inclusive or it just doesn’t work properly.’

  1. Get your paperwork in order

Simon was adamant on this, he said, ‘Ensure that before making the transition to digital, your paper records are in good order. This will make the transition a lot smoother and a lot less stressful for your staff. You should also identify any differences between your paperwork and how that translates onto a system; if you can make that as close as possible, the transition will be streamlined and much easier for staff.’

  1. Choose the right system

The best digital system needs to be flexible and enhance your care team. It will support the great work your teams are currently doing, rather than forcing them to work in a different way. Do your research. Understand what it is you want from a system, and find a system that matches your needs. Also find a system’s provider that acts as a partner; expanding your ability to manage your business. Simon added, ‘We have been able to work directly with our system providers to give feedback and make direct changes; we very much feel like stakeholders in the system.’

  1. Commit to the digital transformation

Finally, if you’re going to transition to digital care management, you need to commit fully. Having some records digital and other records paper, not only confuses staff members but also undermines the benefits of full integration. Megan agreed, ‘It’s about having all your information in one place, which you simply can’t do on paper. If you’re going to use an electronic system, maximise it to its full potential and move everything over; certificates, audits, training.’

With an ever-developing digital world, the care sector will need to step onto the digital platform if they are going to meet the increasing demands from clients and be ready to integrate the newer technologies that will transform how we provide care. The question for care providers now should not be if they are going to move onto a digital care management system, but when.

Emma Smith is Business Consultant at Nourish. Email: Twitter: @NourishCare 

A special thank you to Simon Francis, IT Project Manager at Silverline Care; Paul Dennis-Andrews, Operation Manager at Encompass; and Megan Read, Care Home Manager of Grassington House for their insights and contributions.

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