Technology has transformed the way we shop, travel and live our everyday lives. But health and social care in the UK have traditionally been immune to the level of innovation that is allowing other industries to offer ‘more for less’.
Technology has created new markets and business models, such as the on-demand concept where the needs of a customer can be addressed quickly through the immediate provision of goods or services. Yet despite having this technology at our fingertips, the crucially important social care system has been stuck in the Stone Age, teetering on the brink of collapse. To paint a picture: over 8,000 different companies exist in this space, each providing dramatically different standards of care.
An already ageing population, with the number of people over 80 years set to double to eight million by 2050, also means care needs are mounting. However these demands aren’t anywhere close to being met; the number of beds available in care homes has actually fallen by 20,000 in the past six years. Recent years have also witnessed the closure of one in ten residential homes for older people, meaning they are often trapped in hospital unable to leave because the care resources simply aren’t available. Many care agencies have also been accused of short-changing carers, often taking a 100 per cent mark-up. Not only does this devalue a vital profession, but it has led to a toxic culture and low quality care within the sector.
So how do we move forward?
The first logical step is to better integrate health and social care to resolve inefficiencies and ensure that processes are streamlined. When the NHS was founded in the late 1940s, social care wasn’t factored into the equation; people simply didn’t live long enough for it to be a concern, or their families and local community would take care of them. However, this is no longer the case and we urgently need to embrace this important demographic shift.
Change is already on the horizon, spearheaded by Greater Manchester’s local authorities, which merged its health and social care divisions in April 2016, whilst taking control of its own budgets. Other authorities plan to roll this out as a way of targeting ‘inefficacies’, which could prove to be revolutionary. By merging the two, care can become a smoother experience, as medical treatment would no longer need to be disconnected from routine care in nursing homes.
Secondly, technology needs to be at the forefront of this new era of social care. Technology companies such as Babylon and Google DeepMind are already starting to make significant progress towards empowering patients to improve the care they receive. Babylon, for example, offers healthcare via a mixture of artificial intelligence and video and text conversations with doctors and specialists.
However, up until now, social care has failed to take advantage of digital innovation and advances in health technology.
One benefit of technology in this space is that it can solve inefficiencies, which in this case is crucial to improving the quality of care patients receive. At Cera, we’ve invested in an ‘on demand’ digital platform, which reduces the time that carers spend on admin and enables family members to receive updates and send messages to a carer on the go. We match anyone needing care with the right carer, at the right place, at the right time, to ensure that his or her needs are being met quickly. By automating back-office tasks using technology, we’ve removed the hefty cost of admin; meaning carers are paid at least 50% more than if they worked for other care providers.
The use of cutting edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) could also make a profound difference to the sector. We are exploring the use of AI technology to help predict bigger healthcare issues, based on carer feedback on whether a patient hasn’t been eating, has a fever, or isn’t walking normally, to pre-empt more serious illnesses. The idea is that patients’ GPs will soon have access to this information, so that they can proactively prescribe any necessary treatment, reducing emergency admissions to hospital.
The social care system is not beyond repair, but we need to act quickly. With advances in technology, the start of better service integration, and councils such as Surrey proposing council tax hikes to relieve pressure on social care services, there’s no reason why 2018 shouldn’t be a year of positive social change.