Enough with the smoke and mirrors

Are TEC suppliers magicking up financial benefits? Time to cut through the illusion, says Clare Morris.

I have a question. Are the conversations you’re having with digital tech suppliers leaving you a little mystified as to the true financial benefits of implementing their kit?

The business case for technology-enabled care really matters. The opportunities to support people to lead the lives they want are huge, but without a compelling financial argument, council leaders can’t OK the investment needed to create change. Building that case, and perhaps trying to get a grasp of the potential financial benefits of TEC from a standing start (even though we know they exist) is hard. Digital care leads might reasonably expect market information presented by suppliers themselves to fill in some of the gaps, and yet time and again what we see is a lot of smoke and mirrors. Clear, evidenced benefits can be hard to fathom. Meanwhile slick sleight of hand mixes hypothetic prevention reductions with cashable savings in care costs to conjure a truly fantastical benefits figure which are not necessarily applicable to all local areas.

This is hugely frustrating. For some councils, digital switchover is prompting some really difficult decisions, and heightening need for credible, trustworthy evidence on which way to jump.

The advantages of taking the initiative on intel gathering, and for sharing information among councils, are clear. This may be especially true for social care teams who, despite being committed to embedding technology in their social care model, do not have compelling evidence to help sell the financial benefits and tell the human stories.

Those of us involved in this work also need the data and intelligence to know how we’re performing – where we need to shift, adapt, and learn. If we’re working small and want to go big we absolutely need the intelligence to do that.

Impact and evidence is also a huge part of culture change; how we get heads and hearts together and huddled around this agenda. Understanding how new approaches drive efficiency and free up funds for other overstretched services can be a huge motivation for all stakeholders.

For our first LGA Masterclass, Digital Benefits Realisation, we created a downloadable tool to help you unpack some of the financial impacts – both cashable savings and trackable added value – that come with implementing technology within or in advance of a care plan.

It unpicks the differences between interventions that reduce, avoid, delay, or prevent costly escalations, how they can be tracked, and how you should view the financial impact.

This kind of clarity is everything. At Suffolk County Council, the team leading the new digital care programme Cassius “track absolutely everything”. “Before we started procurement we needed to build the business case,” says digital lead Sam Bassett.

“It was fairly new for us, but we could see lots of good practice in the sector. There’s so much going on now we didn’t always need to pilot, test and learn ourselves; we could see good opportunities for savings and improved outcomes.” Embedding a benefits mechanism through referral pathways around quantifying savings allowed Sam’s team to see the financial impact on a micro scale, “not just in terms of outcomes but for our care purchasing budgets as well.”

“Having all that data enables us to have an intelligent view about what’s happening in areas we’d normally not even consider,” says Sam.

Hampshire County Council apply the same forensic approach but have been at this work for several years; their pioneering care technology model has matured into a trailblazing approach shaped by carefully-curated data.

“I know that for anything I do at scale I have to present a business case, and the harsh reality of that is it has to demonstrate savings currently,” says head of technology enabled care, Mark Allen. “Alongside that is a credibility question: have you got a credible case from which to work?

We have, and being able to start from a really solid platform is important.” Diligence with data gathering, and close work with data analysts, is giving digital leads truly reliable dashboards that really drill down into the detail.

Keeping financial data as clear as possible can require a nuanced approach. As Mark told our masterclass, it’s not always desirable or practical to  include all areas of social care in the calculation, whether because no savings are required (such as palliative, domestic violence or safeguarding) or because impacts can’t be reliably quantified.

“Basically we’ve determined that it’s incredibly difficult to measure the financial impact of our dementia provision,” says Mark. “We take a very prudent approach in terms of the financials, where we can’t justify a claim, but there are other huge benefits – and masses of them – for those people, and these are things we do measure.”

The irony for the market is that councils embedding TEC in their care models really are reporting significant and sustained financial benefits. No tricks, no illusions – just well-evidenced benefits that can be replicated by councils across the country. Now that really is magic.

Clare Morris is a former NHS leader and co-founder of Rethink Partners, working with health and care organisations to visualise and implement change for good.

clare@rethinkpartners.co.uk

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