In an article earlier this year, England’s chief nursing officer, Professor Jane Cummings, wrote about the move from self-care to supported self-care. Self-care can mean a variety of things to different people of varying ages and with disparate needs and challenges, whether you are monitoring your fitness and diet or, at the other end of the scale, managing multiple conditions or illnesses. As a result, Cummings is keen to expand the term to ‘supported self-care’, to create a nation of supported self-managers, enabling people to be much more confident in managing their health and wellbeing.
While self-care might be the buzzword for today’s mobile-savvy generation, providers of housing for older people and the residents themselves have been at the forefront of self-care for decades, whether they knew it or not. Life-safety monitoring services outdate most of the issues self-care services are now trying to tackle; they have been around for over 30 years.
Most of us are familiar with personal alarm technology for older people – either directly or through older family members. Like every other part of the housing sector, the technology has moved on and so have the services being offered. At a time when the sector is changing, driven by our ageing population and the need to find efficiencies and meet rising customer expectations, now is the time for providers to look carefully at the monitoring services they supply to their residents and ask themselves, “are we really meeting the changing needs of our customers today and in the future?”.
A monitoring centre is just like a call centre, right?
Imagine walking into a room with hundreds of ambulance dispatchers, local authority building maintenance service desk staff, house managers, family members and carers, all talking to older people at once and you will begin to understand what a monitoring centre feels like. Staffed by people of all ages and backgrounds, monitoring centres provide a lifeline for many millions of older people today.
While similar to an emergency dispatch centre in some respects, telecare monitoring centres are unique in that they are in contact with the resident from the start of a call until the situation or incident is resolved and take full responsibility for making sure that the resident receives the necessary care and assistance. Make no mistake, this is a skilled job that not everyone is able to do. For instance, we have had previous staff members join the emergency services and reflect on the fact that life as a telecare monitoring centre operative is as challenging and yet more rewarding than their current role due to the support they provide direct to the resident from initial call to resolution.
Telecare monitoring centres handle activations from telecare equipment, including personal emergency alarms, grouped warden call systems, fire detection such as smoke detectors, and door-entry systems. As proactive self-care becomes more prevalent, services such as telehealth and activity monitoring are increasingly included. These give customers, that housing providers support, peace of mind to live independently, improve the quality of life, reduce social isolation and even save lives.
This complex ecosystem is usually, and in our case always, handled by skilled operators with the specialist training to be able to safely handle and process the alarm activations and the numerous other types of calls we deal with daily. Last year alone, our 180 staff in our monitoring centre processed over five million calls across each of our functions; from emergency telecare calls relating to activities of daily living to lone worker and reassurance calls through to non-critical calls to next of kin and property managers, out-of-hours calls ranging from anti-social behaviour to domestic repairs and lost children, as well as fault logging and engineer dispatch.
In the emergency telecare function, we dialled the emergency services 62,000 times, equating to four per cent of the operator-handled calls. Outside emergency telecare, call numbers are increasing every year, especially relating to door traffic from retirement properties due to an ageing population and carers requiring access. The average age of those we support has risen from 79 to 84 years old, and continues to rise. Supported self-care is increasingly seen as a way to help this demographic to live independent, healthy lives for as long as possible.
Monitoring as a key differentiator
Resident monitoring technology is a key area where housing providers can increase their value to residents. It’s a potentially life-saving system that residents use on a daily basis and engagement will only increase as video-enabled calling and digital technologies are adopted. As a result, selecting the correct monitoring partner is not something that housing providers should think about lightly – it really could prove to be a powerful differentiator, if done well.
It’s a fact of modern life that multi-generational living is rare and caring for older family members on a daily basis is not always as easy as we would all like. Technology on its own cannot always fill the void, but digitally-enabled supported self-care using proactive, innovative and accredited monitoring services can allow older people and their families to feel reassured. For housing providers, offering services that are proven to save people’s lives in the worst circumstances, but also give reassurance and improve quality of life on a daily basis, is key.
But as our population ages and housing providers continue to support people to live independently, the challenges will intensify. Remote monitoring is increasingly important as housing providers consolidate and reduce the numbers of housing managers on site. Introducing great monitoring services to provide 24/7 remote support via traditional and digital routes will create scalable efficiencies almost overnight. In turn, the pressures on local health authority budgets and social care will continue to bite and housing providers will be challenged to alleviate the strain and help residents to self-care and stay healthy.
The future is digitally-supported self-care
From health and wellness devices, such as Fitbit, to the internet of things (IoT), we can now collect all that data onto one platform and see a true picture of the person, allowing early interventions and treatments. The monitoring centre then plays a part in proactively reaching out to residents who might be developing early signs of illness before an emergency situation arises.
But the full potential of these services will only be realised with the right infrastructure, a digital solution rather than analogue. Only with digital technology will providers be able to introduce the proactive monitoring that has greater speed, flexibility, scalability and resilience than traditional analogue systems.
Being able to offer these services will enable housing providers to truly differentiate themselves and future proof for a next generation of older people well versed in self-supported care and support.
Gill Atkey is head of monitoring and client services at Appello.