Bringing technology into social care
December 14, 2021
5 minute read
The challenges of technology in social care
The Institute for Public Care (IPC) at Oxford Brookes University published a report in February 2021 entitled “Adoption and Scalability of Technology Innovation in the Adult Social Care Sector” that looks at a range of issues related to the introduction and roll-out of a variety of technological tools into the care sector. The report considers potential and realised barriers to adoption of technology into care settings, and highlights 4 primary issues:
1. Lack of resource to invest in appropriate technology or capacity to upskill staff.
2. Lack of leadership from employers and managers or skills to make decisions on best systems for their organisation.
3. Workforce resistance to using digital technology or staff not having the skills needed to use digital technology.
4.Infrastructure and operational issues such as internet connectivity problems, lack of confidence in the reliability and/or security of digital, or issues with interoperability.
From: “Adoption and Scalability of Technology Innovation in the Adult Social Care Sector”
Rapid Research Review (February 2021)
Internet connectivity and the digital switchover
Throughout 2021, we have worked with and trialled services extensively with a local social housing provider to assess the benefits of bespoke digital services and communication for residents, staff and management. Our experiences during these trials reflect the primary issues raised by the IPC review, with a crucial and ever-present problem of reliable and fast internet connection consistently brought up as a barrier to engagement with technology. As we discussed in a recent article, the problems presented by outdated analogue connectivity creates real problems with the introduction of new technology. A lack of effective Wi-Fi provision in many care settings means that it is difficult or impossible to introduce technology to residents, and in many cases staff and managers. Of real relevance to this issue is the upcoming digital switchover, scheduled for 2025. This ‘deadline’ means that it is ever more pressing for settings to consider how to replace older, analogue systems with digital ones. According to the IPC, a majority of care settings run their businesses using digital systems, but telecare provided to and for residents is largely older and analogue. As a result, without effective thought, planning, and implementation, the core business functions of care and social housing providers will digitalise more quickly than the resident-facing services such as telecare and communication. Clearly, there are many care and housing settings that have internet connectivity available for residents (approximately 40% according to carehome.co.uk), but how this is used, encouraged, or facilitated in order to enable effective resident use is not clear. Within the sectors in question, there is likely to be a percentage of residents who cannot or do not wish to access internet services (for example, due to advanced dementia or personal choice), but this does not mean that many care and social housing residents would not benefit from use of appropriate digital technology.
Concerns over finance must not prevent modernisation of social care
Concerns regarding financial constraints and a lack of resources have also arisen during our recent trials, for example the cost of tablets for residents. In the first instance, this is a concern regarding the switch to updated internet connectivity, with the cost of both the installation of a new system and other ongoing costs presenting a challenge to resources. Alongside this, the switch to digital will in many cases cause existing telecare provision to become obsolete, requiring providers to also make a switch to new resident-facing technology. Despite the initial costs involved in this switchover, as we have discussed in a previous article, in the longer term, there is significant potential for cost-savings to be made for providers along with considerable resident benefits and improvements to outcomes. Our trial partners have recognised this and are working to bring together a comprehensive solution into their settings, in order to realise the longer-term efficiency savings. However, the issues related to resource constraints and effective internet connectivity continue to present real issues for many settings and providers, and despite the looming deadline of the 2025 digital switchover, our partners still face challenges with moving to a more modern system. Furthermore, the concerns raised regarding staff time and commitment also present a challenge, and it is imperative that this concern is tackled by companies in collaboration with providers in order to enable effective integration of digital tools and services, whilst preventing problems associated with a lack of staff time, training, or availability.
Collaboration as a tool to improve services
So how can we, as technology providers, help facilitate an effective digital switchover? Understanding the challenges of resource constraints and recognising that moving to a digitalised system will not be rapid is important, and we at Link-ages believe that an effective way to achieve this is to build our system with as well as for providers. Solutions must reflect real-world problems that providers and settings have, for example ensuring resident facing options are accessible, inclusive, and most importantly, acceptable. Our trials to date have allowed us to respond effectively to the needs of the providers with which we work, and tailor our provision to support them effectively. However, whilst as technology companies we have a clear role to play, we cannot provide all the answers regarding issues such as internet provision. As we move closer to the digital switchover, it will become more and more important for care and housing providers to be able to access advice and support with making this switch, and it will be interesting to see whether organisations such as local authorities and the CQC provide such support to the smaller scale providers that do not have the backing of larger companies behind them. It seems clear that the most effective way to drive this change will therefore be to work collaboratively, with care and housing providers, local government, technology companies, internet providers, and other stakeholders to work together to create change and drive forwards the modernisation and digitalisation of the sector.
 Adoption and Scalability of Technology Innovation in the Adult Social Care Sector – Rapid Research Review (February 2021) https://ipc.brookes.ac.uk