By Integrated Care Journal-
Launched in October 2020, the “Connecting services, Transforming lives” report investigates the role of technology-enabled care services (TECS) in enabling health and care services to provide much-needed support for vulnerable people across the UK, particularly during a time of crisis.
Using a series of case studies to highlight how TECS are already connecting services and changing lives, the report also emphasises how the deployment of technology has accelerated throughout the pandemic and investigates how and why this can be embraced for the future.
The barriers to adoption
Every sector in the economy is being reshaped by technology with user experiences changing dramatically over the past decade. Technology has also become integrated into daily life, with millions of people using step and calorie counters, and homes across the UK regularly engaging with voice-activated assistants and WiFi-enabled appliances.
These innovations don’t tend to be considered as TECS, however, for many users, they provide life-enhancing support which enables people to live safely and independently for longer.
Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, health and social care services were slow to adopt technology into its processes and services due to a number of reasons including fragmented structures, limited resources, and reluctance to change. The NHS also has a replication problem where successful projects are rarely reproduced elsewhere in the system.
The better application of technology to the reshaping of the health and care sector as a whole is a key challenge that the UK continues to face. Decision-makers must work together to understand the benefits that technology can provide and why investment is crucial.
Despite health and care providers failing to adapt and integrate technology, TECS have the potential to transform lives and make a significant contribution towards the ultimate goal of preventative health and care.
Greater investment and integration of technology into services delivers numerous benefits, from improving patient outcomes and service-user experiences, to reducing the strain on carers, and delivering cost savings and avoidance.
There is significant evidence that TECS not only give users greater choice in terms of the care they receive, but can also prevent incidents or enable rapid response to mitigate consequences should they occur. Community alarms and telecare services, in particular, are effective methods of signposting to clinicians and additional services when a user requires care, and this has been particularly important during the pandemic.
This has been demonstrated in Cardiff where, like the rest of the UK, falls are a public health concern and are the most common cause of injury in people aged 65 years and older. By having a proactive response service in place, in 2018/19 only six per cent of calls where users had fallen resulted in an ambulance call-out, leading to over £670,000 of costs being avoided. Projects like this highlight that telecare services with a response element can prevent premature death or early entry into a residential care setting.
Reactive to proactive
The latest connected care and health technology is not just reactive, but enables care to be more person-centred by being proactive and even predictive. Proactive calling enables issues to be identified at an early stage and appropriate care and support to be offered before issues progress into something more serious which requires hospital or residential care admission.
This has been demonstrated in Spain which is home to the largest teleassistance service in Europe, with over 470,000 users and 17.7 million calls handled across eight monitoring centres. The service combines telecare monitoring and responses, and delivers proactive outbound contact to provide continued support to vulnerable people. In total, over 96 per cent of users have experienced improved safety, over three quarters (78 per cent) have achieved a greater ability to live alone, and there have been 35 per cent fewer calls to the emergency services.
Driving the adoption of TECS
Technology enables better user experiences and health outcomes, improved staff/carer experiences, and significant cost savings. Yet, TECS have yet to be embraced fully for several reasons, including unclear funding pathways, limited commissioning support, and cultural barriers.
To successfully address these challenges, we need to see greater support from the Government to enable all health and care providers to achieve a minimum technology standard. The commissioning and financing structures for TECS must also be reviewed to generate long term benefits through the greater use of innovative funding models, such as gain-share agreements.
In addition, the rapid increase in the use of TECS during Covid-19 should not be reversed, halted or slowed down once the pandemic is over. Health and social care providers need to assess where TECS have been beneficial and ensure that progress is maintained, and best practice is shared to safeguard services for the future.
Although there is still a long way to go, we are already experiencing TECS encompassing integration that enables diverse and scalable models of health and social care. We expect this trend to continue and over the years, technology and data to feature more prominently in how our services are designed and deployed.
For more information on the findings of the ‘Connecting services, Transforming lives’ report, please visit https://www.tunstall.co.uk/resources/white-papers/connecting-services-transforming-lives/
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