Opinion

Care, Technology and Innovation: Bringing it all together

Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive, Care England

The social care sector is at a challenging but exciting time. We are at the beginning of a technological revolution that has had a big impact on other parts of the economy, but as yet, has been slow to make a huge impact on social care. I think the tide is beginning to turn and, in the future, we will see technology at the forefront of transforming people’s lives and delivering better outcomes, with more choice, autonomy and control for the service user. There will also be a big added benefit and that is, that the care provider will see increased efficiency and productivity. This will have an impact on the potential of our sector to develop and thrive in the future.

There has long been a tension between technology and social care. The mantra has often been, that we are a person-to-person sector and we cannot replace people with technology. In some respects, this is true, but there are a multitude of ways in which technology can enhance the life of people who use services and ensure that they have more choice and control. For many citizens technology has transformed their lives for the better, and we must make sure that people who use social care services because they have complex needs are not left out of the benefits of a technologically advanced society.

As well as technology, we must also start to embrace the use of data as a way of ensuring that we plan and develop services that meet people’s needs, using our experience to ensure the future is always striving to be better than the past.

I have seen so many great examples of technology transforming care and improving people’s lives. Some time ago I went to a care home and met a man who was living with advanced dementia, who was subject to urinary tract infections. This normally resulted in a hospital admission, which was not good for him, or his family and certainly not a good use of resources within the system. The advent of Fitbit that monitored his temperature and other vital signs, meant that at the start of a UTI doctors were alerted and he never needed another acute intervention because preventative medicine stopped him returning to hospital.

There are also some wonderful examples where technology can really improve people’s quality-of-life. In many care homes the use of pressure sensors, automatically activated lights and audio communication devices mean that many people can have less intrusive, but equally responsive care.

Technology also has a really important role to play in care planning and I have seen some fantastic systems that enable staff to not only deliver a care plan, but also enable them to have an up-to-date record of what they have done. This provides a useful audit trail for the service user, their family and the regulator. The technologies that enable this to happen are cheap and available and as the sector we must start to embrace this new era and do everything we can to position technology as the servant of the person who uses services, and a vital support to those who provide them.

If we look at the demographics, it is clear we cannot sustain our current system because we will not have the staff to meet future needs. Faced with this reality, we must work smarter not harder and we must put technology at the centre of delivering high quality care. This does not mean that people are obsolete, it just means that we will make better use of them, and they will be doing the really important things that deliver relationship-based care, and the more routine activities will be the prerogative of technology. This is a different future for care, but I believe it is one that we must embrace.

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