Social Care must embrace technology. Firstly, technology can enhance people’s lives. People with learning disabilities, for example, generally don’t have smartphones, or learn from the internet, or benefit from online communications or communities. Secondly, technology can replace people in a way which promotes independence and saves cost. Thirdly, technology can enable services to be delivered and recorded more efficiently and effectively. These days, the most advanced providers are saving a lot of trees.
But it is fair to say that Social Care is a late adopter of technology, so we need to catch up. Our challenge is to be clear about the very best applications of technology in Social Care and to promote their adoption.
Current Issues & Problems
The application of technology is relatively underdeveloped in Social Care.
People who access services
- People who access Social Care tend to use a narrow range of technologies. For example, many people with learning disabilities do not own or use a smartphone, so don’t have access to all the applications used by others in society. This means that people cannot employ technology to support big decisions in life, such as choosing services, or day-to-day activities, such as ordering a takeaway.
- Very little of the technology which is employed in Social Care is ‘owned’ by the person receiving the service. Generally, technology is operated by providers and then applied to the person.
- There is little aspirational technology to support people with long-term development or the achievement of life goals and aspirations.
- People who access Social Care services tend not to access online communities through social media as much as other citizens. This restricts social contact and opportunities.
- There are some online tools to support the development of people who access Social Care services, but access and use is limited.
- Great advances are being made in assistive technology, but its use is relatively limited.
- Provider use of technology varies significantly. There are some providers who have a degree of sophistication, but many do not. For example, there are still organisations which employ manual care planning, staff rostering and care recording processes.
- There are no technological platforms which bring together all the operational and back office systems and processes.
- Providers often lack a basic IT infrastructure.
- Collection and application of data to support decision-making is underdeveloped in most provider organisations.
- Many organisations do not employ workflow management and compliance systems.
- Many organisations do not have management information systems to support decision-making.
- Communication technology applied in provider organisations is often rudimentary. Some provider organisations do not have internal systems such as intranets.
- Staff support systems do not always employ appropriate technology.
- Use of technology to support marketing is often rudimentary. Not all providers have a managed internet and social media presence.
- Data collection and use at system-level is patchy. More information is now being collected but it is unclear how this is being used.
- Systems often don’t communicate well. There is little linkage, if any, between purchaser and provider systems.
- It is only recently that Social Care providers have been given limited access to NHS systems, but this remains underdeveloped and under-utilised.
Overall, this is not a good picture.
In the reinvented Social Care system technology is employed creatively to support people accessing social care service, organisations delivering those services and the sector more widely.
Enabling people who access services
- Range of technology
People use a wide range of modern ‘smart’ technologies. These include:
- Mobile computing devices such as smartphones and tablets
- Personal and wearable devices such as smartwatches, fitness trackers and even implants or patches with the ability to connect to other devices.
- Information devices, such as smartspeakers.
People use technology a vehicle to conduct research for several purposes:
- Choice of service. In the reinvented Social Care system people are not ‘placed.’ Rather they actively choose their service, and employ technology to do so. There is a national register of providers to make this process easier.
- People often have low expectations, but life is an adventure and people can achieve outstanding outcomes at all stages of their life. Technological applications can inspire people to discover new opportunities by opening up a world of possibilities.
- People have easy access to what is going on in their local area and beyond.
- People know the opportunities for employment in their local area and the supported pathways to getting a job.
- Aspirational planning
People use aspirational planning tools supported by enabling technology to support them to articulate wants, hopes and dreams and follow the pathways to achieve them.
- Social connectivity
People interact freely through with a variety of online communities – families, friends, church communities, interest groups.
- Development of skills and attributes
People access online tools for training and development in the skills and competencies required to enable them to achieve their aspirations.
Assistive technology supports people to live more independently in a variety of ways:
- Assistance around the home. People use a range of technologies, such as (best examples please!)
- Assistance in the community. People have access to call services which provide them with assistance in the community. This could help with finding the right bus to catch, or what to do if you have lost your money.
- Raising the alarm. Alarm systems are becoming more sophisticated, to the point of creating an alert if someone has not used the microwave to make their porridge.
Providers operate a wide range of technologies, all directly linked to great care and support at the point of delivery.
- Care and support planning
In the reinvented Social Care system people build and own their care and support plans. These are aspirational, targeting the achievement of a person’s hopes and dreams. Provider organisations have systems to tailor the delivery of care and support to meet the aspirations set out in those plans, and to evidence to the person how this is being done.
- Care and support recording
Care and support is recorded when there is a valid reason to do so. It is done so transparently, with the permission of the person receiving the service. Recording takes place using smart and unobtrusive apps in real time. Applications facilitate additional recording as required, for example by enabling behavioural recording and the recording of wellbeing and medical data.
- Rota management
Providers operate rota management systems which enable the best fit of staff to people requiring care and support. Staff have access to these systems so always know when they are scheduled to work. Rota management systems link to HR and payroll systems to enhance efficiency and avoid duplication.
- Workflow management and compliance
Providers utilise workflow and compliance systems to give them assurance that all organisational processes, procedures and controls are operating effectively.
- Management Information Systems
Providers benefit from systems which provide a dashboard (or balanced scorecard) of key information relating to the performance of all aspects of their organisation. This information is pertinent, accurate and timely, and enhances decision-making.
- Communication and information
Providers have excellent communication technology which keeps people in the know and builds positive culture. Communication is inclusive, extending to families and other stakeholders as appropriate, and works well in all directions.
- Staff support systems
Systems are in place to support staff in a variety of ways:
- Some (but not all) training is be delivered effectively using online resources.
- Intranet and other applications enhance organisational communication and connectivity.
- Employee assistance schemes provide to support to staff with a range of issues, such as mental wellbeing and financial difficulties.
- Employees enjoy a range of benefits, from discounts at Nandos to support to buy bikes and laptops.
Providers have interesting, informative and interactive web sites, and a strong presence on social media. Positive stories are promulgated.
Along with back-office systems this adds to an amazing multiplicity of systems used by the best providers. All these technologies interact and interface well where required.
In the reinvented Social Care system, providers have ready access to information about systems via a comprehensive DHSC Social Care Technology website which captures user feedback.
Within the proposed structure of Social Care there are a number of other entities. Here, we see positive use of technology in several areas:
All entities in the Social Care structure communicate well with each other using appropriate technology which safeguards personal and confidential information.
- Research and planning
Appropriate technology is used to capture data and analyse the requirement of the Social Care market to enable effective market-shaping and signposting.
- Streamlined architecture and sharing data
Systems are joined up and interface seamlessly. Data is shared to drive process efficiency and improved decision-making.
Procurement systems operate fairly and efficiently.
Commentary on ‘People At The Heart Of Care’: The Adult Social Care Reform White Paper (published 01/12/21)
Best Practice Share
Our Key Takeaways