Caring for older and vulnerable citizens is one of greatest challenges facing societies in the prosperous western world today.
We all know the population is ageing but the rate of change can startle: the number of centenarians in the UK quadrupled in the last 30 years. Over the same period, number of people over 90 nearly trebled. And, as the nation ages, the challenge of supporting citizens with additional care needs becomes more complex, as the number of people with chronic illnesses and ongoing care requirements grows.
We cannot be proud about our response as a society to this great challenge. Too many older and vulnerable citizens do not receive adequate care to live in comfort or with dignity: in the last full year for which records are available, there were almost 41,000 allegations in England of neglect or omission in the care of elderly or disabled people.
Scarcity of resources compounds the issue: funds for elderly and high-dependency care services for are strained. Research just published by the respected Nuffield Trust and King’s Fund think tanks found that the number of over-65s being helped by councils had fallen by a quarter in the four years to 2014.
Tackling the complex and growing challenge of social care requires us to make better use of available resources. Digital has a clear role to play here. On one level, connected digital technology makes it easier for care providers – whether they are local authority agencies or family and friends - to monitor and manage vulnerable and elderly people in their own homes, responding to individual circumstances and needs.
As well as enabling more personalised care provision, digital can make the delivery of care services more efficient, helping care providers deploy personnel more effectively.
The city of Helsinki has blazed a trail in the digital transformation of social care. As part of the Finnish capital’s journey to becoming a smart city, Helsinki worked with CGI to introduce a Mobile Workforce Management (MWM) solution for social care teams.
At any time, Helsinki’s Home Care personnel look after around 17,000 patients, with each requiring regular home visits to have conditions monitored and managed and, generally, to receive attention from a care professional who understands their personal needs.
The MWM tool sits on Home Care team members’ mobile devices and securely connects them to base when they’re out and about visiting their patients, giving them all the up-to-date patient information they need to give personalised and expert care. Any information the team member enters on their device is communicated back to base, supporting easier coordination by Home Care department management. Importantly when dealing with confidential patient records.
A bigger change
The Helsinki Home Care example gives a taste of how connected digital technology can transform local authority social care. Digital delivers clear practical benefits for citizens and the city, in terms of service improvements for the patient and greater efficiency.
But perhaps the really exciting thing about digital is the potential it gives to transform social care as whole. Connected technology makes it much easier for people to monitor the wellbeing of our elderly and vulnerable family members, friends and even neighbours. Digital could underpin a cultural change: one that sees all of us, as a society, taking more care for each other.