Written by: Author: Lisa Fyfe, Joint CEO and Finance Director of Caremark In partnership with The Access Group
The UK’s health and care system is under intense pressure, with rising wait times, persistent workforce shortages and patients struggling to access the services they need. The incredible commitment of those working in health and care is truly commendable, they play a key part in supporting the health and care system. Adequate funding and a robust workforce strategy are essential to relieve existing pressures. There is a significant need to innovate, to reduce some of these pressures, and to ensure we have a system which is properly equipped to deliver the highest standard of health and care that is sustainable for the future.
In this article I will explore some new, but presently available approaches and technologies that can help our health and care system provide a more holistic, preventative and proactive service to individuals. Alongside necessary improvements to funding, staffing and integrated services, these innovative approaches have the potential to transform our health and care system.
Integrated health and care – why it matters.
True integration and collaboration across health and social care is a long-standing aspiration, but despite valiant efforts in different localities and regions it has never been fully realised.
The rationale for greater integration is clear and difficult to disagree with. People, particularly older people, use a wide range of health and care services intermittently, but as they move between services the full picture of their health, care, life and preferences does not. Information remains siloed, sometimes even within the same organisation, for example different parts of an NHS trust.
Without shared, up-to-date information the overall picture of a person’s health and care needs are fragmented. This creates additional admin for staff as they chase and locate information to piece together that picture.
This has the potential to impact quality of care, as decisions can be made without the rich, full picture of the individual.
A range of factors including lack of resources and institutional barriers have all hampered attempts at integration. However, what determines whether integration is even feasible is the technology available.
Why technology underpins integrated health and care.
In order for integrated services to be possible, the technology that is used to access and update peoples’ health and care records across all services and settings across the care continuum - for example in primary care, care homes, acute services and so on – needs to be interoperable, able to share information seamlessly, or better yet share a single record for each person.
If this technological hurdle is not overcome the vision of integrated care is quickly undone and will fracture along the dividing lines between each service. Information will cease to flow across organisational borders and will instead have to be sought out manually, by staff who could be making better use of their time.
Therefore, it is essential that technology companies adapt their digital care record systems, electronic health record systems and other systems, to be able to securely and intelligently share necessary information with counterpart systems used by fellow care providers, different parts of the NHS and
partners beyond. This needs to be seamless and secure, instead of having information taken out of one system and re-entered into another.
Virtual wards and greater independence at home
Just as integration offers a leap forward in improving peoples’ interactions with all health and care services, new approaches to how care is managed and delivered are fast coming into view. Virtual wards, enable people to be treated and supported for a wide range of conditions in their own homes and communities, rather than in a hospital building. Not only does this typically enhance personal comfort it can also improve outcomes and reduce pressure on stretched NHS services.
The advance towards virtual wards across the UK was accelerated by COVID-19 and by new technologies that make virtual wards now feasible and more promising than perhaps was first envisioned. At one end, there is now more sophisticated software to manage wards and patient flow enabling more intelligent, less labour-intensive co-ordination of each person’s care, particularly when they are not in the hospital building. At the same time leaps forward in Technology Enabled Care (sometimes known as digital telecare), mean that vitals can be measured automatically and remotely for as long as is required.
Changing approaches to community care
The applications of Technology Enabled Care for domiciliary care, are potentially transformative.
Outcomes based care, as opposed to the standard commissioning of care services based on hours, or ‘task and time’, has long been talked about and aspired to. A key limitation in making this shift has been the ability to track progress towards outcomes. How exactly can we evidence that a person has increased their independence or mobility in a reliable and independently verifiable way?
Technology Enabled Care makes this possible. Data is captured through a wide range of sensors fitted on everything from front doors to fridges, wearable technology and connected devices such as kettles. This data is then processed by a single ‘hub’ and a real-life picture of a person’s current strengths and capabilities is created. Desired outcomes can be set with the person. Data is then continuously collected and turned into meaningful information to measure and demonstrate progress towards those outcomes.
These technologies also greatly improve safety. Instead of relying upon alarms being triggered by the person, they are triggered automatically when a person falls or has a detectable health event. Conversely different forms of data are used to identify early warning signs of deteriorating health.
Preventative interventions can then be made to stop a more severe incident occurring such as a fall, or further deterioration of the person’s condition. All of this means we can move from a reactive to a preventative approach to care.
At Caremark we believe its important we embrace technology to enhance the services we provide to our customers whether that means increasing personalisation, ensuring their safety and protecting them from harm, or enabling them to build on their own strengths and maintain independence. Through the use of technology we can further support our fantastic, hardworking staff, and enable our Franchise owners to streamline their business where possible
Keeping our best people
Retention of staff across healthcare and social care is becoming a chronic issue, but this is nothing new for care providers. Most providers in the UK are hamstrung in their efforts to attract and retain staff by restricted local authority budgets, but undeterred, we innovate and improve where we can.
At Caremark, we have introduced a number of initiatives, both cultural and technological to improve work for our staff and give them more time to care.
We use a range of technologies that help us retain our staff. Access EarlyPay allows our carers to withdraw some of their earned wages before payday through the click of a few buttons. This can be a massive relief at times of financial hardship. It spares staff the need to ask for an advance, which they may be reluctant to do, or worse still, take out loans with predatory rates of interest.
Our bespoke Connecteam app fosters recognition as staff nominate colleagues for awards like Carer of the Month. This helps remind us all, the amazing impact we make despite the difficulties we face. It enhances communication between all staff whether that’s carers out in the field, office staff or Franchise owner, supporting our team culture. Through using the app as a training platform, we have significantly reduced the onboarding time for new carers, staff are able to access training materials in a modern, user-friendly way, and flexible way, improving the onboarding experience and streamlining the training process.
Like many care providers we also make use of care scheduling software and digital care records both of which enhance the care we deliver, it makes care workers’ roles much easier, with the information they need to confidently carry out their duties in the palm of their hands. This reduces stress, improves job satisfaction, and promotes employee retention.
Where to learn more
For the latest in healthcare and public sector innovation you should attend HETT (Healthcare Excellence Through Technology) on the 26th and 27th September at the ExCeL in London.
HETT has become a must attend event for leaders in healthcare and the wider public sector to hear from experts on innovative approaches to workforce, productivity, technology use and more. Register here or find out more about the programme now.