Tunstall Healthcare’s director, Zillah Moore, discusses the role of technology-enabled care services (TECS) in keeping vulnerable people connected to key stakeholders while living at home, including clinicians, housing providers and communities, particularly during the pandemic.
Over the past decade, many technological innovations have become mainstream: millions of people use technology at home and on-the-go to support daily living; voice-activated assistants, smart doorbells and wifi-enabled household appliances are widespread in UK homes; and smartphones support ‘transportable’ services, including email provision and even counting steps.
During the coronavirus pandemic, technology has become even more integral with video-conferencing platforms, online shopping and health technology gaining widespread usage.
The impact of the pandemic has had significant negative impacts on daily life and most elements of health service and housing provision, but it has also placed a spotlight on the role of technology in safeguarding vulnerable people and its potential in a post-coronavirus world.
The development of TECS adoption
Innovations in TECS provide remote monitoring of health and care needs which are vital to enable vulnerable people to live independently for longer, reduce pressures on loved ones and support the health and care sectors. However, these technologies are rarely integrated or replicated across different systems. The reasons for this are complex, including fragmented health and care structures, limited resources and a reluctance to change.
Health and care services are often required to be provided in multiple forms, including paper and telephone, leading to an impact on the adoption of TECS and its potential cost savings.
The coronavirus crisis has led to a significant shift in how technology is used by the NHS, social care organisations and housing providers. There has been increased investment in remote monitoring devices, voice-activated assistants and other technologies to support clinicians and carers in the care of vulnerable individuals while reducing face-to-face contact.
Technological initiatives, such as remote patient monitoring, which would previously have taken months to become operational, have been established and mobilised within weeks. Solutions implemented during the pandemic have benefitted a range of cohorts, including people living with mental health conditions such as eating disorders, care home residents and people with long-term conditions.
The latest generation of TECS, deployed to keep vulnerable people connected during the pandemic, has moved from enabling people to get help in an emergency to providing proactive support tailored to individual needs. Vulnerable people can now be supported in their communities, and this will only increase as we move towards the next phase of innovation with a focus on intelligent data-driven insights.
TECS can greatly reduce pressures on the UK’s services by providing predictive solutions which enable health and social care providers to determine those most at risk across a range of settings. Specific benefits of integration include improved patient outcomes and service-user experiences, reduced pressures on staff and carers, improved remote-health monitoring to limit infection rates and cost savings.
The benefits of TECS
Digital health and social care services have the potential to transform the lives of millions of vulnerable people and enable the ongoing provision of support services.
The pandemic has illustrated the requirement for technology adoption to connect people to the services they need, enable integrated care provision and equip users to manage their own health and wellbeing remotely.
Remote health monitoring services enhance the prevention agenda and enable care to become more predictive and proactive, reducing the need for more complex and expensive care later on. It also enables greater flexibility in terms of where care is delivered; for example, more people can access the care they need at home or in their community rather than having to visit a hospital or clinic.
Not only has this helped health and care services in providing support to coronavirus patients, but it has reduced costs and encouraged service users to proactively engage with their medical conditions.
The continued application and integration of technology will allow the healthcare sector to redevelop, which is currently one of the key challenges faced by providers. This would deliver significant benefits, not only in improving patient outcomes and the quality of service-user experiences, but also in delivering cost avoidance, as demonstrated during the pandemic.
TECS in a post-coronavirus world
Technology must play a pivotal role in how health and care services are remodelled in a post-coronavirus world to create a true ‘healthcare’ system.
The pandemic has provided clear evidence that TECS play a pivotal role in providing better patient experiences, improved health outcomes, greater staff and carer experiences, and reduced healthcare costs for individuals, the NHS, local authorities and housing providers. However, it’s only in the past few months that health and care services, housing providers and assisted living providers have begun to fully embrace the full potential of TECS.
Stakeholders must work together to develop innovative models of care which support more effective care delivery and long-term efficiencies, and it’s crucial that we see greater collaboration between the NHS, housing providers and technology innovators to enable further independent living.
While the adoption of technology increases, this will only benefit vulnerable people so far unless the workforce is digitally upskilled. This should be considered a priority so that the transformational benefits of digital technology are realised during coronavirus and beyond. This can also be achieved through the evaluation of TECS and their impact so that providers can truly understand why technological integration is crucial.
Local authorities, the NHS, and the third sector must also invest in enabling vulnerable people to live in their own homes for as long as possible. Care and support packages should be developed which hinge on TECS, and provide integrated patient-centric services, with common objectives, cross-functional working and interoperable systems.
Zillah Moore is a director of Tunstall Healthcare.