Let’s get digital: why it’s time to talk to care providers

Conversations with care providers should be honest, collaborative, sensitive, pragmatic…but above all they must happen, says Clare Morris

As we pass the two-year anniversary of the first Covid lockdown, many of us have been reflecting on the torrid time our care providers have had over the last 24 months. Aside from a sharply dwindling workforce and hikes in running costs, the sheer emotional burden of becoming proxy families for the pandemic’s most vulnerable and impacted group is unimaginable.

We saw use of technology in care homes and community settings flourish during Covid; carers’ own smartphones were even used to bring precious family contact into locked down homes. Now, the moment to push the new digital habits that the care sector have developed is upon us. Why? Because collaborative efforts to exploit the incredible digital capabilities all around us can really take the sting out of care delivery’s most acute pain points. The opportunity to support the care market to take the next step, to spot the transformative impact digital technologies can have for the quality of life of the people in their care, and their own businesses into the bargain is real. I know, because I’ve seen this great work in action.

For our final LGA masterclass we teamed with two councils whose conversations and collaborations with residential and home care providers are bearing fruit. “Our offer was to support them and their teams to move forwards,” said Marie Spittle, Head of Service (access and prevention) for Dudley MBC’s adult social care team. Piloting an interactive cognitive therapy device (RITA) to people with dementia and challenging behaviour in several care home settings, Marie’s team found its primary goals (to reduce the intensity of one-to-one care and increase local placements for people with dementia) exceeded on all measures.

“We saw a reduction in falls and reduced need for one-to-ones,” says Marie. “The quality of one-to-ones improved, too. Rather than care staff just sitting in the room of someone with challenging behaviour they were able to have more meaningful engagement and interaction, because of the content that’s included on RITA. It helped intergenerational engagement too, with younger carers learning more about the older person and understanding them better.” 

This digital intervention to help residents with challenging conditions live more fulfilled, self-sufficient and relaxing lives has created a cascade of good outcomes right the way along the care chain, from reduced demands on staff to fewer hospital admissions and a reduction in the escalation of care packages. “We’ve had new homes step forward,” says Sajad Hussain, a commissioner at Dudley,” and some of the existing homes on the pilot are really keen to get more systems in because they’ve seen the benefit.”

At Telford & Wrekin Council, the adult social care team has been talking to domiciliary care providers. “We see it as a way of testing how we can use new technologies to improve the service we provide to our clients,” says Sue Robson, director of Supreme Home Care, who answered T&WC’s call for participants to pilot a video smartphone. “For us, this is stepping into the future and testing how things will be as new systems come on stream.”

Of course, some care providers are moving independently to digitise their operations. Software is being deployed to manage rosters, pay staff, to keep care plans…essentially for back-end business needs. But there’s so much more that can be done, as Dudley and Telford & Wrekin prove. Yes, obstacles to progress are real: we must ask stretched staff to embrace new ways of working and small, family-owned operators to rethink long-standing business models. But the wheels are already turning. Pioneer councils are sharing their insight; care providers are inspiring others in their marketplace; and users are experiencing a holistic uplift in quality of life. There’s a momentum to this work now that we can all harness.

We can help you get started. Our free tool, co-produced with Dudley MBC and Telford & Wrekin Council, will help you plan your approach to this work including how to assess the digital maturity of your care partners, effectively engage with the market, and find successful and sustainable ways to meet your shared goals.

How we incentivise care providers to consider technology that may replace or reduce some of their billable tasks is a live question. How we navigate those sensitive conversations around care methodologies, data gathering and pricing of evolving services is everything to our chances of unlocking the incredible potential to transform care. Keeping commissioners close is key.

But there are big wins here for care providers on the front line, as well as the councils that commission them, and – crucially – the users at the centre of all our efforts. Huge wins, in fact. Now is the time for us all to go after them.

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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