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The growing use of technology in the social care sector

The UK is struggling to cope with the demands of a rapidly ageing population with increasingly complex needs. This is exacerbated by a lack of suitable, adapted homes for them to live in. However, by harnessing assistive technology and creating sustainable living environments, care homes will be able to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the UK’s ageing population.

Staff in care homes have traditionally spent time creating endless streams of paperwork, but as they begin to make the transition from using paper-based systems, to centralised, electronic systems, this sight will become a thing of the past.

Specifically, electronic care management applications are becoming a rapid component within many care homes throughout the UK, providing care and nursing staff with the ability to deliver more efficient and effective care.

While many care home providers are already embracing technology, care homes still have a long way to go before they fully embrace digital advances. The CQC are now getting behind the drive to encourage providers to make best use of the technology that is out there. In their latest review of the Key Lines of Enquiry one of the inspector’s prompts will be the use providers are making of technology to the benefit of service users.

In these cash strapped times many providers may feel that they would like to embrace the use of more technology in their services, they will at the same time ask the question “How are we going to pay for it”.

Given the current momentum towards the use of technology, I would suggest that it is more a question of what providers can do now with the resources they have, rather than waiting for better times in the future.

Some of the advantages of increased use of technology in social care settings could include: • Savings in staff time. • Help in the retention of staff by providing a more interesting job. • More independence for service users. • Better quality of life for service users.

It should go without saying that technology is not a panacea, it will never stand to replace the human interaction that occupies the very heart of adult social care. Nor will it ever replace the compassion, kindness, empathy and understanding between care staff and the people who receive care, who are care dependent and exposed to considerable vulnerabilities.

However, what technology does represent is the potential to enhance the quality of adult care by empowering care providers with ways to: • improve operational efficiencies; • reduce errors and risks; • increase capacity to manage limited resources effectively; • and most importantly, give care and nursing staff more time and space to deliver personalised care and support.

Some uses of technology

Electronic care management Specifically, electronic care management applications are becoming a rapid component within many care homes throughout the UK, providing care and nursing staff with the ability to deliver more efficient and effective care.

The simplified electronic collection of information about service users ensures greater accuracy of service user’s records, while rapid access to this information provides care and nursing staff with the ability to be more responsive in their daily care provisions. Illegible documentation is being replaced by electronic care plans that support person-centred care and assist care facilities to more effectively demonstrate and ensure compliance.

Electronic medication administration records (eMAR) Enables care and nursing staff to more effectively coordinate, monitor and administer medications and provide more accurate and timely medication information for staff, and further improve service user’s safety.

Replacing paper-based records with comprehensive electronic records also facilitates the flow of this information between the wider health care community including hospitals, medical practitioners, pharmacies, specialists and other care professionals. Whether it is transitioning a service user from a care home to a hospital in an emergency, or to an elective appointment with a specialist, electronic service user records play a major role in communicating the most relevant and important information for each service user.

Internet access Care homes are also extending broadband internet access to their service users, which is a powerful tool in building a sense of belonging, support and connection. Applications that support video, chat, email and other online communications ensure service users can quickly and easily connect with relatives, close friends and the community, which can significantly contribute to a greater quality of life.

Summary

Although funding for social care services remains a major concern, there is evidence that providers are embracing the advancements in technology. The transition from paper based to centralised electronic systems will take time, but ultimately lead to improvement in operational efficiency and savings in staff time. Embracing technology will bring more benefits to service users through the ability to achieve more independence and better quality of life.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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