Taking a digital first approach to adult social care could have significant benefits for both providers and people who use care services.
From promoting independence and wellbeing to helping care providers reduce costs and deliver faster response, implementing a digital strategy can greatly improve service delivery and strengthen relationships.
Benefits for people who use care services
Utilising digital channels and new technologies could be highly advantageous for those who use adult social care services in helping them more easily find and access local services.
Offering the ability to use a comprehensive online information portal about adult social care services available in the area wouldn't just make this information more accessible, it could also encourage people to more actively search for the services they need, without the possible embarrassment that they may suffer by enquiring over the phone or face-to-face.
Some of the services that could be provided online for people researching care services could be:
- Online assessments to tell people if they are likely to qualify for social care support
- Short assessments to tell people if they are likely to have to pay for support, and estimate how much they may need to pay
- Helping people decide whether to continue with a formal, more detailed assessment
- Direct people towards local services that are relevant to their needs
- Social care referral forms that can be either self-referral or completed by a relative, carer, voluntary organisation or medical professional
However, possibly the main benefit of a digital first approach is how it can promote independence and help people live safely at home for longer.
As well as giving people the ability to easily contact their care providers through digital channels, internal organisation systems can also integrate with in-home technology to enable independent living, without the need for further care packages.
For example, for people with health conditions such as dementia, monitoring devices could be put in place that check whether they have left the house. These devices can then send an alert to their carer's phone or workstation, enabling the person to continue living independently, but with the reassurance that their care provider is aware if they have left or returned home, and how long they may have been away for.
Telecare systems can also be implemented in people's homes, which work differently to alarms in that the person doesn't need to actively do anything to trigger them. These systems allow people away from the home (such as family and carers) to make sure that people are safe.
In addition, telecare applications may be integrated with internal systems (that can be easily updated by both carers and medical professionals) to provide prompts such as reminders to take medication or carry out activities set by their carers.
Implementing a digital strategy will allow carers to deliver improved services and more personalised care to each individual by having the ability to quickly and easily access a central system wherever they are. Having the ability to find information while on the go can be especially beneficial for new staff or leave cover. They will be able to access all the information they need to provide the best possible care for an individual before they reach them, meaning that people will not experience a drop in service quality if they are sent a different carer to who they are used to.
When speaking about digital services in social care, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board said:
“Technology can never be a replacement for care, but it can play a really effective role in helping people to live at home for longer, as well as support professionals and commissioners to target services where they have the greatest impact."
Benefits for social care providers
The benefits of a digital first approach are not limited to the people who use care services. It can be equally advantageous for social care providers in relation to both cost saving and enhanced efficiency.
With online assessments available, if they choose to take an assessment forwards from the initial online test, they have the ability to enter and submit this first stage information straight into the IT system.
This can significantly reduce the amount of time that social care providers need to spend collating and manually inputting this same information, as well as allowing them to see it prior to a meeting or formal assessment, enabling progress to happen more quickly and efficiently. When taking this staff management time into account, online services could be highly cost-effective.
As well as improved time management and more responsive services, integrated care technologies and CRM and workflow systems also make service delivery and task allocation much easier.
Information gathered by telecare and monitoring systems can be automatically entered into the internal IT system and sent to carers and medical professionals in real time. This enables staff to access an up-to-date, accurate 360° view of an individual at any time, and from any location.
Because staff will have this comprehensive view of each individual, they will be able to more efficiently and effectively assign tasks and respond to enquiries and requests, leading to enhanced service delivery and stronger relationships between providers and the people who use care services.
Correct implementation is vital to the success of any digital first strategy.
In order for them to be successful, digital channels need to be accessible and equally easy to use, regardless of how confident people may be using online services. And when it comes to providing monitoring systems and telecare, it should be the responsibility of the care provider to make sure that these are properly set up and working effectively, and that people's homes have adequate wi-fi connections.
Security and data protection is also of the utmost importance when taking a digital approach to social care. In order for people to feel confident sharing sensitive data such as medical information, they will need the assurance that you, as a provider, will keep it strictly confidential and secure. You will also need to clearly communicate the instances in which you may share a person's data, and that their information will only be shared when appropriate and for their benefit.
Throughout the planning and implementation stages, operational users should also be involved in the process to make sure that internal and external IT systems have all the functionality that is needed to improve service delivery.
Working closely with an independent IT consultant who has specialist experience advising care providers, and who has an in-depth understanding of the different choices of software available, will ensure that the digital strategy you implement is the most suitable for your organisation.
Regular service reviews are also vital to the success of your digital strategy. Developing an ongoing relationship with your IT consultant will enable them to routinely help you assess the functionality you have in place and identify any areas where improvements could be made to increase efficiency, reduce costs and, most importantly, allow you to better meet the needs of the people who use your services.
You may have heard much of what we've covered before, so why are so many adult care service providers still finding it difficult to successfully undergo a digital transformation?
We have found that it often boils down to organisations largely focusing on individual systems and functions, instead of the overall Enterprise Architecture. In order to design and adopt a digital first approach that meets the needs of both internal and external stakeholders, how every system, infrastructure and data component integrates needs to be carefully considered.
Shaw Consulting are a specialist IT consultancy for the social care and housing sectors. Working in close partnership with your internal teams, we manage entire projects from start to finish and gain valuable insight into your day-to-day operations to create strategies and review all systems and operational costs to determine effective, future-proof solutions.
If you have a project you'd like to discuss, please get in touch via the website and we will be happy to help.