A recent technology review has analysed the value of digital technology in adult social care, the barriers and enablers to accessing and supplying digital technology, and the potential for future use of digital technology.

The study confirms that the Covid-19 pandemic prompted nearly all participants to increase and expand their use of digital technology. It features case studies that demonstrate how providers have been able to:

  • provide personalised care, by using consumer gadgets to personalise exercise programmes and to control different room settings in shared premises (adapting audio-visual settings to meet different sensory needs);
  • treat people with dignity and respect, by installing voice-activated technology so that service users can control their mobility equipment and undertake personal care activities in privacy;
  • increase the safety of services and premises, by using smart lighting and audio-monitoring to prevent falls in reablement settings; and
  • support people to remain independent, by setting personalised reminders for daily tasks (such as drinking, gardening and taking medication), connecting them with other professionals (such as physiotherapists) and maintaining connections with their wider support network.

The study reveals that frontline staff regularly think about how digital tech can be used to support people, whilst those in managerial roles or with responsibility for digital development feel their lack of knowledge inhibits their ability to use new digital technology to improve care. Providers and commissioners need to incentivise innovation and seek recommendations from front-line staff, ensuring ideas and improvements are communicated 'up the chain' to key decision-makers. Where organisations invest in stronger digital leadership, they will be able to navigate the technology market with confidence. 

The findings suggest that adult social care providers are more likely to see a return on investment where they use technology 'improve' rather than 'reinvent' services. Small scale pilots are a useful means of controlling upfront costs whilst clearly communicating the purpose of new technology to staff, customers and commissioners. 

The review recognises that small to medium-size providers may struggle to find the dedicated resource needed to identify suitable devices, manage stock and handle installation. However, many care workers are capable of providing face-to-face support and guidance to customers on how to use technology, particularly where this involves consumer gadgets. 

The study does not lose sight of the fact that the ultimate goal is to deliver better-quality, front-line care. Digital technologies have tremendous potential to improve social care services and can help foster better relationships between different professional worlds. A strong digital strategy can significantly increase the value of personal interactions, rather than replace them. To achieve this, the report recommends that both commissioners and providers:

  • look for increased opportunities to use digital technology, rather than wait for digital skills to develop;
  • use myth-busters and share experiences to raise awareness of how digital technology can complement and support care delivery;
  • incorporate digital skills into recruitment, qualifications and career progression; and
  • collaborate and co-produce solutions so that organisations can increase their buying power and overcome the challenge of operating in a fragmented purchasing market.

Before buying any technology product, we recommend that adult social care providers and commissioners start by asking – what is the problem we're trying to solve? How will the proposal enhance the user experience and/or realise efficiencies? This may well include a digital solution, in which case the next step is to consider whether to purchase an off-the-shelf product versus something more bespoke.

The full report, commissioned by NHS Transformation, is available here.  It provides detailed insight on customer, staff and commissioner attitudes to digital technology and digital skills in adult social care.