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24th January 2022

What will it take to digitally transform the Adult Care Sector?

In early December, NHSX commissioned Ipsos MORI, the Institute of Public Care and Skills for Care to conduct a review about digital technology used in adult social care and the digital skills capabilities of the adult social care workforce. The findings concluded that digital technologies have tremendous potential to improve social care and discussed ways they could be ramped up.

At the end of last year, QCS’s survey, ‘Building a Better Workforce Together’, found that over 80% of people thought that technology and the increased use of electronic systems were a good thing and improved the way they could do their job. Its widely felt that the increased use of technology in care was stimulated by COVID-19, along with the need to innovate in the way care is provided. It’s unlikely the sector will go back to paper processes.

And the UK Government’s recent white paper (People at the Heart of Care), pledged £150 million to drive greater adoption of technology and achieve widespread digitisation across adult social care in England, as part of a 10-year plan to reform the sector.

Technology has not been embraced in the care sector

In the adult care sector, technology has traditionally taken a back seat. But in the light of these recent findings, the social care sector has realised that it must embrace technological change to bring it in line with the rest of the business world. It’s only by doing so that the sector can enjoy the clear benefits of affecting a much-needed digital transformation.

At QCS, the leading provider of content, guidance and standards for the social care sector, we are strong advocates of technology. We believe that there are enormous benefits of digitising the care sector – including professional development of care staff, improving business operations and a positive impact on people using services.

We have chosen to lead by example. Up until six years ago, subscribers to our service could opt to receive our policies and procedures in print, which meant pages of documents filed within huge folders. In 2021, there were around 4,000 policy updates. By no longer offering a manual paper-based offering, we are encouraging our customers to embrace digital delivery.

We also produce support and guidance around the NHS-provided Data Security Protection Toolkit, which all CQC services are obliged to complete and maintain. The QCS Data Security Audit enables providers to meet the data security and information governance requirements, and helps them ensure that personal and medical information is handled correctly – great examples of how digital transformation can streamline day-to-day operations.

Debunking myths

But often these benefits aren’t evident to people in the industry – and there are many myths associated with technology adoption. Moreover, there is a lack of structured training to ensure care givers are sufficiently enabled.

In my opinion, therefore, the successful implementation of digital technology across the sector is dependent on two things - dispelling misconceptions about digitising the sector and enabling carers (both professional and non-professional) to improve their digital capabilities.

It’s taken as read that the key desire for care sector staff and management is to maximise the quality time that carers spend with service users. But one of the most prevalent fallacies in the sector is that by using digital solutions, daily activities will take longer, and carers will therefore spend less face-to-face time with their clients.

In some scenarios, that may be understandable. In certain care services, there isn’t the proliferation of digital devices that you see in other businesses.  Perhaps there is just one room where a desktop is set up, or there is patchy Wi-Fi access. In these cases, a lack of connectivity or restricted access to digital devices can potentially take the carer further away from their clients, as they have no choice but to sit in the office to get online.

Digital systems – the benefits

Although senior managers are likely to recognise the positive impact of technology on organisational capabilities, they may not fully appreciate its positive impact on carers and recipients of care.

But it is increasingly evident that, if implemented correctly and used well, digital systems can not only save time, but also streamline processes and deliver financial savings. Moreover, with the use of portable devices, carers can spend more face-to-face time with service users. And the range of tools and resources to support social care is increasing all the time.

Indeed, the benefits of digital systems are many. They deliver a greater level of efficiency, and free up more time for service users. Information is searchable, available, and auditable if digitally stored and, unlike paperwork it cannot go missing. It is easier to share care records and notes with staff as well as client’s families if they are stored and made available in digital format.

There is often an aversion, however, to having smart devices on care home floors as some senior management teams can’t tell whether the staff member is using a personal app such as Facebook or using an online tool to assist the service user. It’s therefore important to debunk this myth and show technology in its true light.

Raising awareness

Care management therefore must make a concerted effort to raise awareness of the benefits of technology and digital empowerment to staff, and how it will improve their day-to-day working life. There is a very clear message that needs to trickle down: We live in a digital age. We should be looking for ways for technology to make our lives easier and allow us more time for dispensing care rather than doing administrative tasks.

When it comes to training care professionals, many of whom enjoy the hands-on practical nature of their job, there may be resistance to spending time in front of a computer to learn new skills. Some might not have access to a computer or a smart device.  While others just won’t have time for self-directed learning.

The power of training

A key challenge for care home managers, then, is to free up time for carers to attend training sessions — not an easy undertaking in today’s time-pressed environment.

For many in the care sector, learning remotely is not as effective as learning in a group. Carers generally prefer learning with their peers. They value the social aspect, enjoy discussing ideas and working on learning activities together.

One way of achieving this is by developing digital champions, something I believe would be a really positive initiative. Digital champions are individuals within an organisation made available to help digitally upskill others. They will usually have an existing relationship with learners, and often have a strong personal interest in technology. They can operate with colleagues as well as service users.

There is no standardised approach to this, but emerging evidence supports the concept as an effective enabler of staff and promotes peer-to-peer learning.  The champions are the primary trainers who support colleagues to learn new skills, gain digital confidence and overcome barriers to becoming digitally active.

Time for a re-think

In conclusion, then, what’s key for me is empowering carers to be able to both see the benefits of increasing digital literacy and giving them the time and resources to be able to do so. By adopting digital solutions, management can free up the time care workers now spend on administration tasks for more face-to-face care. Their businesses will operate more efficiently, and they will be able to do more to look after those they support and their employees.

It’s time for the sector to rethink some of its ingrained attitudes towards the adoption of technology, stop banning devices on the care home floor, and start to see their potential in terms of time and cost savings. They need to carve out time for staff to be able to learn, as a group, and not exclusively in their own time. But most importantly, there must be a package of easily accessible funding in place if digital skillsets are to be nurtured across the board.

That seems as good a place to start as any…

To find out more about the QCS Management system and start a free trial, please visit http://www.qcs.co.uk/chp-jan-22

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

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