Greater digital confidence can transform models of care



February 14, 2022 12:26 pm

By Iain MacBeath, Strategic Director of Health and Wellbeing at City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council and ADASS Honorary Treasurer.

Last year I heard a woman in her 70s talk about the care technology she uses. After being discharged from hospital, a domiciliary care worker visited her four times a day. The carer would help the woman get up, shower and prepare meals – but each visit seemed functional and was conducted quickly – in and out of the door and on to the next client.

When the woman gained confidence and wanted to be more independent she gave permission for a sensor system to be installed. The tech learnt her routine and the care worker and her family received alerts to say the woman had got up, been to the bathroom, switched the kettle on, taken her medication and used the microwave.

Having this monitoring system gave both the woman, her daughter and her carer confidence that four visits a day were no longer necessary. Instead, they agreed on a single, longer, daily visit. This meant their time together was richer.

Instead of helping the woman to shower, the carer would run a luxurious bubble bath. Rather than checking she had drunk enough fluids, they would bake together. There was more time for quality conversations about grandchildren and gardening rather than nutrition and medication.

The ability of technology to free up time for meaningful human interactions is just one of many benefits it delivers for people accessing care. Digital systems provide peace of mind for families, and they give individuals choice and control, helping them to do the things they love, in the places they call home.

But not everyone experiences these advantages. We know that older adults and disabled people are less likely to use technology than the rest of the population and this has created digital ‘poverty’, where certain groups are missing out on opportunities for better care and support. Some people don’t have the digital confidence to select devices that will give them more independence or social connection. Others aren’t aware of the tech systems that can offer reassurance about a relative.

And it’s not just people and families drawing on social care who experience digital exclusion. Staff providing care and support, from front line workers through to service managers, are also disadvantaged by a lack of access and confidence around technology.

Findings from a review of digital skills in adult social care, conducted by NHSX and Skills for Care found that although the use of some, often basic, technology for care and support is widespread, its full potential is not being realised. Use of digital tools was lower among care workers than other groups in the workforce and knowledge of care-specific technology amongst staff was variable.

Age was found to be a key factor in workforce confidence, with younger groups showing higher levels of digital sureness.

These results were backed up by recent feedback from social care directors during events hosted by TEC Services Association (TSA) and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) to explore the use of technology in care. A survey conducted by Brain in Hand during the sessions showed that just under half of DASSs weren’t confident their staff had the tools and skills to deploy digital solutions.

It’s for these reasons that I welcome the commitment to improving digital skills made by the government in its recent social care white paper. Equipping people, families and social care staff with the skills and confidence to use technology effectively will be a game changer.

A comprehensive digital learning offer will empower the care workforce to identify tech tools for the people they support. It will give them confidence to appropriately share and draw insights from people’s data. It will enable providers to right-size care packages and respond to people’s needs faster. Greater digital capability will lead to more collaboration between health and care, through digitised care records and a focus on the wider wellbeing of individuals.

One way to boost digital confidence is via co-production. By involving workers who deliver care and individuals who draw on care in the development of digital services; then trust, belief and assurance around these systems and products will grow. Importantly, shared decision-making will also ensure that TEC solutions are targeted to people’s real needs and aspirations.

Increasing the digital confidence of our care staff can also help to tackle skills shortages. There is a finite care workforce in this country, and we need to think differently about how we use our wonderful human resources. Digital solutions can improve productivity and efficiency in social care provision, reducing administrative loads, speeding up shift handovers and ensuring support is appropriate.

Ultimately, this will help to change the social care model, moving from time and task commissioning to a more flexible, blended approach. Technology will underpin this, identifying a person’s changing needs, adapting support as required and giving families and care providers confidence that a person’s wishes and wants are being met. This won’t just be through regimented time slots delivered by formal services but a more personalised, agile model of community-based support, wrapped around the individual.

Iain MacBeath is Strategic Director of Health and Wellbeing, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council and ADASS Honorary Treasurer.

Iain MacBeath will be speaking at TSA’s ITEC Conference Unlocking Personalised Outcomes:
Life and Living Empowered by Digital Care 28th March at ICC Birmingham on Day 1 Innovation Stage 11:35 >>
https://itecconf.org.uk/

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