Clenton Farquharson CBE, Co-chair, TEC Action Alliance, Chair, Think Local Act Personal (TLAP)
There’s a problem with how we talk about technology in the care sector. I read about apps and widgets that remind people to take their medication, monitor their vital signs and send an alert if someone falls. This is important work. But what I don’t hear is how digital care is helping people to lead gloriously ordinary lives.
Where are the stories about devices amplifying human connection, fostering inclusivity and helping people to do the things they love?
Yes, I want to know that digital care keeps individuals safe and secure, but it can do so much more. We need to paint a richer picture, so more people engage with technology. How can it help them to feel recognised and valued? How does it allow individuals to find freedom and dignity, belonging and purpose?
I believe that digital care has a vital part to play in supporting people to lead great lives. But its role must be a backseat, enabling one. Human relationships are the driver in care, not boxes of kit. Sure, those boxes can join up services, reduce admin and provide monitoring but they do that so we can spend more time on the interactions and passions that help us thrive, not just survive.
So, how can the care sector use digital technology more effectively, so people get good lives, not just good services? I believe there are some foundations that providers can put in place.
Offer web access to all
So much of our world is digital that access should be seen as a basic service – like water or power. People who draw on care and support are being excluded from opportunities, information and services if they can’t get online and this is something care providers must consider – particularly their role and responsibility.
Digital access can no longer be viewed as a nice to have – it needs to be threaded through care and support. Challenges around digital literacy and Wi-Fi connectivity must be addressed early and properly resourced.
People who are older or disabled often have things done to them. They can be typecast as passive recipients rather than individuals with autonomy and agency who are experts in their own lives and can think for themselves.
When it comes to technology, these stereotypes abound. I regularly hear that older people ‘don’t like tech’, which just isn’t true. During lockdown, I helped my 85-year-old mum use a mobile phone. Once the grandkids installed her favourite apps and talked her through everything, we couldn’t get her off it. Like lots of people in later life, she just wasn’t familiar with technology before.
If you find out what people are interested in and give them the right support, their skills and confidence will grow.
Co-produce digital care
When you’re procuring devices, share decision-making with the people who’ll be using them. This might sound obvious, but digital solutions are often bought by managers and then presented to individuals or care workers. A lack of meaningful involvement can result in devices being inappropriate, unwanted and unused.
It really pays to get co-production right. For help getting started, download this free guide from the TEC Action Alliance, a wide-ranging group of care organisations putting co-production at the heart of digital care.
I co-chair the alliance with Alyson Scurfield at the TEC Services Association (TSA) and our mission is to ensure the voice of people is at the forefront of care technology. We’re working with researchers and speaking to individuals to identify what they want from digital care and our recommendations on how to accelerate the adoption of TEC and ensure everyone can lead a technology-enabled life will be published in the new year.