Better Data | Better Outcomes: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence in Social Care
Artificial Intelligence (Ai) is having an influence on every part of our lives, from security and entertainment in our homes to the way we access healthcare. Utilising its capabilities in the social care sector is, therefore, an obvious progression.
Earlier this year, the leading care home review site (carehome.co.uk) reported that over half of care home staff think homes should use Ai such as smart devices to help care for residents. The website surveyed 2,611 care home owners, managers and staff, with 52% responding in this way. Carehome.co.uk says that Ai can help people with limited mobility to regain some of their autonomy using their voice to control their environment, such as by operating light switches and temperature, as well as enabling them to call their friends and family.
This thinking is being taken further, and an International project is trialling the use of Ai with care home residents across the UK and Japan. ‘Pepper’ the robot is part of the International Caresses (Culture-Aware Robots and Environmental Sensor Systems for Elderly Support) project, a multidisciplinary study aimed at designing, developing and evaluating culturally competent robots that can assist older people according to the culture of the individual they are supporting. Each resident was given the robot for up to 18 hours over two weeks, and researchers reported a ‘significant improvement’ in their mental health and a slight improvement in loneliness.
Two years ago, Bradford Council joined with the Local Government Association and NHS Digital to pioneer an opportunity in Adult Social Care that utilises Ai. The three are developing a proof of concept for a Digital Navigation Tool, to be used as the first contact with the Council, and which is intended to take the pressure off front line Adult Services Access without replacing them.
With the amount of research already being undertaken into using Ai in social care, it is only a matter of time before the possibilities for this technology are realised in the sector. But naturally, such a significant development is not without its concerns. The most obvious of these is the ‘human’ element – social care will always need to be delivered by people rather than robots. The Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology wrote in December 2018 that, “Robotics may free up time for caregivers enabling them to focus on delivering a better service for care recipients. However, there are concerns that social care quality may diminish with the use of robots, because robots are incapable of fulfilling the social or emotional needs of older care recipients and may increase loneliness and isolation amongst this group.”
Although the research carried out by carehome.co.uk suggests that the majority of care home staff would welcome some level of Ai in their workplaces, such a significant change to working practices would naturally take some getting used to. Staff would have to learn how to use the new technology, and in turn show residents how to use it. Data protection concerns must also be addressed.
But even taking these concerns into account, Ai has the potential to transform social care for the better, by helping staff to identify anomalies and prevent them becoming significant health issues. Digital care planning technology has been available for some years, but using Ai to monitor vital signs and nutrition to assist in predicting and/or preventing unnecessary outcomes takes care delivery to another level. Concerns can be communicated to family members, increasing their peace of mind, and to medical professionals who can then decide whether to act upon them.
The Care Quality Commission advocates the use of technology in social care in a supporting capacity. In an article from November 2018 it outlines how the innovative use of technology can help answer their five Key Lines of Enquiry (KLOEs). For example, the service can show that it is ‘Safe’ through accurate Electronic Medication Management (eMar) records; and that it is ‘Effective’ through telemonitoring systems, which detect changes in a person’s condition.
Ai’s other obvious benefit for social care providers is in helping increase efficiency in the actual running of the business. Digital administration for staffing, accounts, and maintenance means staff can spend more time with residents and less on paperwork, and will have the added benefit of making the service inspection-ready with information available at their fingertips.
Of course, the potential of Ai in social care can only be realised if the data it both begins with and collects is meaningful. For example, identifying anomalies in a residents’ health are only relevant if the ‘starting point’ information was correct, and margins for error will be required in the output to ensure that the alarm is not raised unnecessarily. PedicAire is addressing this very issue in its new product, which will be available from late 2020. It is the first holistic fully digital care technology software product, which will integrate resident-centric care data to predict and prevent unnecessary outcomes before they arise. Because of this holistic approach, each module works together to provide accurate data, whether this is for resident care, staffing, invoicing, quality assurance, or maintenance.
The key to the success of Ai in social care is careful application and responsible technology. Technology can never and should never be used as a substitute for human interaction, but when used in appropriate and responsible ways it can give staff more free time to interact with residents and monitor their health and wellbeing. All in all, the future for Ai in social care looks bright, offering better outcomes for everyone.
Katherine joined techUK in May 2018 and currently leads the Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID programme.
Prior to techUK, Katherine worked as a Policy Advisor at the Government Digital Service (GDS) supporting the digital transformation of UK Government.
Whilst working at the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) Katherine led AMRC’s policy work on patient data, consent and opt-out.
Katherine has a BSc degree in Biology from the University of Nottingham.
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