The recent Rebooting Health and Social Care Integration report by the independent think tank Localis examines the future of health and social care integration, looking in particular at how this can create a culture of person-centred care.
The report suggests a focus on making better use of technology to ensure that, in an integrated health and social care world, those receiving services have more control over their care, and a better experience overall, with services ‘built around the passenger’. There’s huge potential to harness the power of technology to join up the passenger journey, even if the organisations themselves are quite disjointed. Hence the analogy in the report to a traveller needing to take two flights to their destination - just as a traveller can book these as a seamless experience, so technology can underpin a seamless pathway for the person receiving health and social care services.
Advances in technology mean that the introduction of easy to use and secure citizen portals, shared professional portals, the ‘Internet of Things’ and advanced analytics can all work together to augment the preventative services, quality of care received, improve decision-making to make the best use of resources, and ease the burden of those delivering care services.
How technology can help in the real world
Let’s consider a fictional example of how this can work in practice with support for elderly people: Sam is 89 years old and living independently. He takes medication for adult onset diabetes. After stumbling a little recently he’s lost confidence in his mobility and, as a result, has been going out and about less. Being less mobile has affected his agility and he suffers another fall, this time requiring a stay in hospital.
In the integrated world of health and social care, his return to independent living can be as smooth as possible when services are co-ordinated – health professionals alert social care teams via hospital discharge notifications when Sam is ready to return home. A reablement programme would be put in place to ensure he’s safe, with the joining up of community care and occupational therapy services to support his health needs and in building his strength and mobility. Home visits from his social worker would identify the homecare services he needs to keep healthy and safe, with the social worker able to access intuitive, mobile-friendly technology to record and look up key information quickly and easily, leaving him/her free to focus on face-to-face contact with Sam.
Once Sam’s at home, the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) means that the health professional could even set up reminders to come through Sam’s television for him to take his insulin medication. Sensor’s in his home can also automatically trigger alerts to health and social care professionals, for example if he falls. Sensors on kettles can even monitor behaviour over time if Sam doesn’t make his normal morning cup of tea, or he’s making it later and later which could alert to depression or mobility problems. As Sam settles back into independent living, he and his family can access the citizen portal to manage his social care budget, and to decide which care services will best support his particular needs at that time.
With the primary focus on person-centred care, technology systems can ensure Sam receives care which takes direct account of his wishes and considers his individual needs.
Ensuring a sound digital investment – the 3 P’s
With local authorities being urged by the report to invest in technology to present a wider choice of care options to citizens, it’s important to be clear on those key areas where technology can improve the quality of life for your communities as well as enable your staff to do their jobs more effectively.
I call these the three P’s: patient and service user portals; professional portals; and predictive planning.
Patient and service user portals - whether these are apps or websites, self-service options must be easy to use so that all those receiving services feel empowered to choose what will suit them best from a selection of homecare services and residential care.
Professional portals - social care and health staff can better protect the interests of vulnerable people when they can share information. Professional portals need to be intuitive, secure and mobile-friendly, ensuring that professionals know when circumstances are changing and can support the coordination of services.
Predictive planning – to continue to serve your communities, you need to understand demand, both now and looking at the future, and know exactly how services are performing. Analytics tools are crucial for providing a clear picture of needs and costs, and showing which providers are having most impact, helping you predict where to plan services.
As the report says, to be truly successful, the future of health and social care integration must be focused on greater person-centred care. And with the right technology in place, this doesn’t need to be at the expense of efficiency. Quite the opposite in fact – with intuitive, integrated IT systems, social care can be both personalised and effective, supporting health colleagues, social workers and other local authority teams to ensure the highest possible quality of life for each individual.