Health August 1, 2019
Unlocking the blockage in social care

By Gavin Bashar - Accountable Care Journal

The long-awaited social care green paper remains unpublished, but as well as tackling the major issue of how care is funded, it is also expected to place emphasis on the need for more integrated, person-centred approaches and innovative models of care.

Technology will be key to delivering the plan; as Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said at the NHS Expo in Manchester, "Now is the moment to set our sights on the NHS being the most cutting-edge system in the world for the use of technology to improve our health, make our lives easier, and make money go further, harnessing the amazing explosion of innovation that the connection of billions of minds through digital technology has brought to this world."

The digital opportunity 

The digital opportunity is massive. We’re all increasing the use of technology in our homes, with smart speakers and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices commonplace. But social care has been slow to realise the benefits of technology to help people remain independent at home and enable care to be targeted where and when it is needed most.

Community alarms have a long history in the UK. Since the early 1980s local authorities have been using home units with wearable pendants to enable older people to easily call for help in the event of an emergency at home. Some have also introduced more advanced systems known as telecare, which use additional sensors to detect issues such as fires, floods or falls and automatically raise an alert at a specialist monitoring centre and consequently with a neighbour, family member or the emergency services.

However, budgetary constraints have meant that the adoption of technology to support people at home is variable across the country. And yet, when used as part of a model of care delivery, rather than as a bolt-on to existing service delivery, telecare can actually reduce costs.

For example, using fall detectors and medication dispensers can make community care delivery more effective by reducing the need for unnecessary home care visits. Telecare provides 24-hour cost-effective support and enables care to be delivered when it’s really needed. As well as making care delivery more efficient, this also means emergencies such as falls can be responded to more quickly, mitigating their consequences.

The future of digital healthcare

The latest generation of telecare, or connected care, moves from reacting to emergencies, to helping prevent them altogether. Digital technology enables a wide range of devices to connect intelligently and use data analytics to provide meaningful, actionable insight. It offers objective information about patterns of behaviour to inform assessments – meaning packages of care can be more person-centred and efficient.

Systems can be used to facilitate timely support, avoiding the need for more complex care. For example, discreet sensors in the home can monitor activity, managing risks but also enabling earlier, lower-cost interventions. For example, increased use of the bathroom may indicate a urinary tract infection. Treating this with antibiotics at an early stage can prevent deterioration in health, improving quality of life and avoiding a possible hospital admissions. This subsequently reduces the risk of associated hospital-acquired infections and reduction in mobility.

As the world moves towards an increasingly digital future, the health and social care industry needs to progress and become digitally enabled. The next generation of systems will become more predictive, using patterns in data to anticipate possible events such as falls by identifying changes in behaviour, ultimately allowing organisations to deliver efficient care to the community while also enhancing cost-effectiveness and quality of care.

Comment attributable to Gavin Bashar, UK & Ireland Managing Director of market-leading provider of Connected Care and Health solutions Tunstall Healthcare.

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