Weighing up the Digital Future of Social Care

How we deliver social care to an aging population, with ever constrained budgets, is one of the biggest decisions we face as a society over the coming years. I’ll leave it to politicians and economists to discuss how it should be funded, but whatever we choose, technology will play a major role in the way it is delivered.

In social care we find ourselves at a crossroads where we are precariously dabbling with two futures. The first, where the use of data, predictive analytics and potentially artificial intelligence can transform the decisions we make to improve the outcomes and independence of individuals. The second where people are replaced by machines delivering ‘care’ to our parents and grandparents.

With the drive to automate low skill jobs the care sector is an obvious choice for transformation. How we decide to go about it will say a lot about us as a society. While assistive technology to monitor and help people is welcome development which will allow people to live independently and safely in their own homes, there is a risk we embrace all technology in the name of productivity leaving robot nurses to keep our elderly company. The key is deciding which technologies enhance the way we deliver, and which risk us losing the human touch.

On the other hand, digital transformation is essential and an amazing opportunity to help us live longer, more independent and fulfilling lives.

Using data to better inform decisions

The benefits of using data effectively are obvious and clear to almost everyone. Better data means better information, and all this leads to improved decision making for social workers and the practice. Understanding the indicators for social care need now will lead to predicting future needs and the potential to intervene and prevent need escalation before it occurs. Getting this right means people living more independent and fulfilling lives with benefit of delaying or preventing the social care costs.

Artificial Intelligence

The next step in this is using AI to make informed decisions about the ideal care for a person. Already, care management systems can recommend the level of care required based on the information entered by practitioners. With the right data, AI will be able to consider multiple factors at once, consider past outcomes and recommend the ideal care package for even the most complex cases.

Assistive technology

Up until recently most assistive technology in social care has consisted of an alarm pendant that people can use to call for help if they have a fall or other emergencies. Now we’ve got the ability to kit our houses with sensors to detect falls or changes in patterns, we can make sure the correct medicines are dispensed at the right time, or monitor daily health condition such as heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. For patients with dementia, wearable technology can help monitor people who may get disorientated, giving families the peace of mind that your loved one is safe at home.

As technology quickly becomes key to the way we deliver social care, it is important that we take a step back and think about what kind of future we want for our elderly. While productivity and better decision making are things we can all get behind, we need to be careful that we don’t lose the humanity within the system.

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