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The future for home care technology

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David Lynes looks at how big data, tech-enabled care and an MVP approach could drive improvements in care standards and quality of life.

It has been well-documented that the unprecedented circumstances we have found ourselves in as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have led to an acceleration in the use of technology.

From the widespread adoption of Zoom for business meetings and social hangouts alike, to rapid deployment of digitalisation projects that had languished at the bottom of agendas for years, technology has helped us to adapt to how we work and how we live.

Home care providers agree that greater use of technology will be the thing to most impact their services after the pandemic. So what might that home care technology look like?

I see a world with joined-up data about care. Where information about people receiving care is connected, not siloed, to give a bigger picture of what they need to live a fulfilling life. Where software providers work in collaboration, not confrontation, aligning their systems with the shared purpose of supporting the delivery of outstanding home care.

Accurate and reliable data about home care is so limited. Whilst valiant efforts are made by bodies such as the UKHCA and Laing Buisson, there is no nationalised data set that gives the complete picture of home care within the UK.

In a recent panel discussion hosted by the UK Homecare Association (UKHCA), William Laing called for real-time data collection for home care, without falling into the trap of large-scale data collections that are published at a delay of several months: “What’s needed is real-time data generated as a by-product of digitisation of homecare services.”

This view was backed by Rosamond Roughton, Director-General for Adult Social Care at the Department for Health and Social Care, who recommended that there be a national policy for data sharing to make it quicker and easier for all.

Similarly, Professor Martin Green of Care England has called on the Care Quality Commission to lead the care sector’s digital agenda, stating that: “If we had good access to real-time data, there would be far less need for the snapshot approach that we’ve got at the moment with inspections.”

Like many other aspects of the society we live in, COVID-19 has raised substantial questions about what the right kind of care looks like. There is great interest right now in reimagining care for the future, with technology at the forefront of these discussions.

Technology within the home was already on the rise before the coronavirus outbreak, but it is likely now to appear front and centre when shaping future care provision.

In HF Trust’s Sector Pulse Check released at the start of 2020, three-quarters of care providers surveyed reported using assistive technologies, but only 19% had them as a core part of their service. One in five providers did not use any technology at all.

Current research by Northumbria University is pointing to a digital approach to support home care. In a “living lab”, researchers are testing and developing a range of smart technologies – sensors, apps and virtual assistants like Alexa – to support vulnerable people to live more independently.

But it is vital that this technology talks. Too often, the data collected by these great pieces of kit sits isolated. Imagine the power if we were to bring all that data together into a genuine and detailed “big picture” of the circumstance of a care recipient’s life. Care would have the potential to make such a meaningful difference if it was informed by such powerful intelligence.

Finally, if there is one lesson to be taken from this year’s events, it’s that we can change and we can do it quickly. We are working in ways that we previously thought impossible. Whether it’s video appointments or digital note-taking, practices that were once viewed with suspicion or ridicule are now the norm.

To the surprise of many, people receiving care are embracing technology as much as providers. Older adults have adopted video calling in droves to keep in touch with family and friends. And there has been a huge increase in the number of people requesting access to client and family portals, which helps family members take an active role in the care of their loved ones from a distance, be that booking a visit, viewing notes or sharing a memory.

My hope is that the adaptability that has been demonstrated over recent months will lead to a better ‘minimum viable product’ approach in the future. Defined in the technology world as a version of a new product which allows for a maximum amount of learning with the least effort, an MVP approach allows for a much greater pace of change and drives innovation.

It would see care providers more inclined to pilot, to assess a piece of technology on its merits in action, before refining ahead of a wider rollout.

This approach would allow the home care sector to reach that glimpse of a different future that we’ve seen this year, before it fades into a distant memory.

David Lynes is Managing Director of Unique IQ, a UK company providing scheduling software to a number of sectors, including home care,

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