19 Mar 2024

Guest blog: Mission Possible: the power of digital in health and care

Mark Nicholas (Chief Social Worker, NHS England) and Anne Cooper (Clinical Director, Ethical Healthcare Consulting), combine their frontline and strategic experience to reflect on how health and social care can be better integrated through digital technology.

Mark Nicholas, Clinical Director and Chief Social Worker for NHS England  

The importance of digital technology and data as a tool for better integrating social care and health has never been higher. 

Most people who receive care and support want to live as independently as possible and, as the numbers of frail elderly, those with complex needs and those with mental health challenges increase, digital technology has the power to achieve what has long felt like mission impossible: to improve care and increase value for money. 

The Digitising Social Care programme (DiSC) aims to transform adult social care through digital innovation, as set out in the Government white paper, People at the Heart of Care, and is an exciting example of effective collaboration, something which is crucial to driving up quality of care.   

When the DiSC programme launched, just 40% of adult social care providers were digital first. The majority were using paper-based care planning systems. 

Now more than 60% of care providers have a digital social care record solution – enabling staff to operate far more efficiently and effectively. The benefits include improved access to information, reduction in administration and the ability to generate, analyse and share data, both within the organisation and with partners.  

Much of this growth is driven by the sector itself, with rapidly advancing technology and increased competition helping to drive down the cost of solutions. The growing momentum amongst care providers to go digital means more organisations are adopting new technologies – keen not to be left behind in terms of driving up quality of care and attracting and retaining staff. This is supported by the movement of a talented, dedicated and creative workforce who share approaches and innovations as they move between roles and organisations.  

Of course, a bad digital solution is worse than no digital solution. DiSC has learned lessons from the health sector in ensuring social care system suppliers are assured against a standard roadmap to support interoperability and meet cybersecurity and accessibility standards.  

Sharing information between health and social care organisations is essential if we are going to deliver truly integrated care – which is better, safer and more personalised - along with improved data for strategic planning, whilst helping to reduce the burden on care providers.  

DiSC’s recent work to develop a new Adult Social Care Minimum Operational Data Standard (MODS), along with minimum dataset for reporting now in development, are giant steps forward in achieving this vision.  

By working together to improve the flow of information through digital solutions, we can empower adult social care providers and staff to drive up standards of care and improve quality of life for the people they so ably support.   

Anne Cooper, Clinical Director of Ethical Healthcare Consulting, former nurse and health informatics specialist 

There’s a lot of noise in the health system around ‘bed blocking’, a perceived delay in discharge for someone waiting for social care services. Technology systems, sharing of information, interoperability and common understanding are surely key to improving some of this challenging and complex process. 

We can’t allow social care services to be the technology Cinderella in the drive to use digital in positive ways to enhance the life of citizens. I’m relieved to hear that things are improving but we have a long way to go, and it will take lots of energy and support from both systems to make this a reality; partnership working in its fullest sense. 

Health and Social Care Programme

With health and care systems around the globe facing increasing pressures, the use of digital technology has never been more important. Supporting a vibrant ecosystem with the potential to become a world leader, techUK is helping its members navigate the complex space of digital health and care in the UK and ensure our NHS is prepared for the challenges of the future.

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