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Virtual Nursing Homes in China

We often talk about the importance of technology in the provision of social care within care homes in the UK, but it seems that a new technological concept is being rolled out in China that goes far beyond our technological vision of the future.

As the population of aging increases, "virtual nursing homes" – a new model of home care that makes full use of social resources – are becoming the choice of more and more elderly people in China.

The Chinese National Development and Reform Commission and 22 other departments on March 13th, 2020 proposed to vigorously develop the "internet + social services" consumption model and support the development of community-based virtual nursing homes with new policies and procedures for supported living.

Over the past 10 years, virtual nursing homes have been promoted in many places in the country, exhibiting expanding service groups, diversified service content, and prominent intelligent features. The elderly want to live at home. However, while their children are willing to take care of them, they suffer from lack of time and energy. Virtual nursing homes seem to be providing a solution to the problem.

Internet + smart elderly care services embedded in virtual nursing homes

With just one phone call, the nursing home can provide various services for the elderly at home, from buying vegetables and cooking to cleaning, from massage services to accompanying the sick, so that the elderly can enjoy "personal customized elderly care" without leaving home. In the virtual nursing home in Chengguan District, Lanzhou City, Gansu Province, there is not a single bed, but it can serve tens of thousands of elderly people.

An "information and home care service" platform and an "intelligent elderly care information" management platform have been created to incorporate registered elderly people, regardless of their location, according to Qin Tiantian, director of the virtual nursing home in Chengguan District. The system can provide professional and standardized home care services in a timely and accurate manner through big data collection.

"Although virtual nursing homes are virtual, the services are actually in place," said Qin. "As of now, more than 133,700 elderly people have been registered and hospitalized, and the total number of services has reached 13.79 million."

The combination of internet technology and elderly care services can not only update offline service maps, day care centre monitoring and other content in real time, but also retrieve long-term monitoring data such as blood glucose and blood pressure of the elderly," said Liu Mingzhe, a technical engineer at the virtual nursing home in Chengguan District, adding that smart devices such as infrared sensors and voice-activated alarms can also realize "cloud monitoring" for the elderly in their virtual nursing homes.

"Different from traditional nursing homes, virtual nursing homes are an old-age care service platform built on information technology," said Pan Helin, professor at the Digital Economy Research Institute of Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, further pointing out that virtual nursing homes are generally led by the government and integrate nursing institutions and communities.

Still in the exploratory development stage

"The comparative advantages of developing virtual nursing homes are very obvious. It can realize the centralized, precise and efficient supply of decentralized nursing resources, which is an effective choice for my country to deal with the impact of population aging," Pan said.

"Virtual nursing homes are new things in the international arena, lacking mature experience reference, and relying more on our own exploration," Pan said.

"Current virtual nursing homes are also facing excessive reliance on government purchases, insufficient market activity, and shortage of talents. The bottleneck is that the construction of virtual nursing homes has a long way to go from one too many and from many to excellent," he added.

Some other experts also mentioned that the key difference between virtual nursing homes and general housekeeping services lies in their professionalism and orientation.

Summary

The concept of a virtual nursing home can be aligned to an internet information hub that is designed to integrate a range of health and social care institutions and other support mechanisms. Its merit lies in its ability to provide a one stop shop where people can purchase the support services they require rather than being passed from one health and social services department to another. On the downside the concept must have the resources and services available to match demand. The shortage of skilled and trained staff is presenting a problem and there is no mention of quality standards and regulation.

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

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