Tackling the adult social care crisis: how new technologies create new possibilities

Government and care providers are trialling technological solutions to the adult social care crisis. Making sense of the data they generate is key to success.

There’s no question that the UK is facing a crisis in adult social care, and it’s only getting deeper.

According to Age UK, 1.5 million people lack full access to the care and support they need. These numbers are increasing as the population ages, as budget cuts mean stricter criteria on who is eligible for care, and as care providers struggle to recruit and retain staff.

It means the burden of care is being pushed on to unpaid carers – usually family members – of whom the NHS estimates there are 5.4 million in England alone. Age UK says that around one-fifth of them are ‘sandwich carers’ – people who are caring for elderly relatives while also raising a family, and who are consequently under a huge amount of pressure.

Even for adults who do qualify for social care services, annual reports from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) reveal that the quality of care varies considerably across the UK, with some areas failing to provide adequate, joined-up care to people who desperately need it.

So what can be done to alleviate the burden and ensure elderly and vulnerable adults are able to live well and with dignity?

Technology is part of the solution – and the ability to pool and analyse data is critical

One of the proposed solutions to the crisis is to make better and smarter use of technology. The CQC said in its 2018-2019 State of Care report that “health and social care services [must pool] resources to use technology to deliver common goals and improve the quality of care.”

In fact, government, local authorities and care providers are exploring many technological solutions to improve collaboration, increase standards of care, and alleviate the burden on carers. Three key technology categories are data-sharing, workforce planning and assistive devices – and all rely on the ability to pool, analyse and share vast amounts of data fast.

Data-sharing: The dangers of siloed information were  , was killed. Before his death he made many calls to health and social care providers, but none of the agencies were able to ‘join the dots’ to identify him as an individual at risk.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence uses this example to urge care providers to share data, and many have made significant strides. However, in its 2017-2018 report, the CQC still noted that “in too many cases, ineffective coordination of services was leading to fragmented care.”

One reason is that information-sharing between agencies is easier said than done. Different agencies run different systems, many of which are over a decade old and don’t allow for easy access to the data they contain. To be able to respond effectively to complex social care needs, local authorities, agencies and private care providers need shared data platforms that can pool data from many sources and enable it to be accessed and analysed in real time.

Workforce planning: The CQC is also calling for a greater focus on workforce planning, to ensure the right skills and resources are available to meet growing demand for care. In its 2018 report, Beyond Barriers: How Older People Move Between Health and Social Care in England, it notes that “joined-up care requires a workforce equipped to move between health and social care. Workforce planning needs to create the skills and career paths that allow people to work flexibly across the system as services evolve over time to meet the population’s changing needs.”

Long-term workforce planning requires the ability to gather and analyse data about the workforce and about likely future demand for social care services, creating a need for advanced data management, analytics and predictive modelling. The CQC says those capabilities do not currently exist: “Health and social care commissioners do not consistently have robust systems in place to be able to predict demand and proactively shape the structure of the market supply.”

Connected devices: Another area of focus is assistive devices that support independent living for vulnerable people and reduce the burden on social care professionals and unpaid carers. Many care providers and local authorities are trialling and implementing connected technologies, from video monitoring to automated pill dispensers.

In a 2019 white paper, Accelerating competitive advantage with AI, Microsoft highlights WeWALK, a smart device for visually impaired people that attaches to the top of a white cane. Data from the device’s sensors is analysed by AI in the cloud to understand how each user navigates their environment. The device can then provide guidance and feedback as the user moves around, boosting their confidence and ability to live independently.

While assistive devices are invaluable for helping individuals live a better life, collectively they can also provide valuable insight into the needs and risks of an ageing population. Analysing the data generated by an entire installed base of devices can uncover patterns and trends that can inform policymaking and help shape the future of social care services.

Data analysis, modelling and visualisation tools are more affordable than ever

The technologies described above have a key role to play in tackling the adult social care crisis. At the heart of all of them lies the ability to gather, standardise and analyse huge amounts of data – often in near-real time.

In the past, the tools needed to do this have been prohibitively expensive and complex, and often resulted in a data warehouse where the information was far out of date by the time it was available for analysis.

Today, the technology landscape for data collection, analysis and modelling has completely transformed. Real-time data warehouses with advanced analytics are now highly affordable on a public cloud platform like Microsoft Azure, and enable predictive modelling as well as historical analysis. Data analytics and visualisation tools have evolved too, making insights much more accessible than ever before.

The ability to pool, analyse, predict and visualise has many invaluable uses in tackling social care issues: from identifying individuals at risk to providing a solid evidence base for policymaking.

A modern data analytics platform to tackle the crisis in adult social care

Adatis works closely with central government departments and agencies, local and regional councils and NHs Trusts to build cost-effective and standards-compliant data management and analytics platforms in Microsoft’s Azure Cloud. Our Modern Data Warehouse approach creates an agile foundation for data sharing and analysis that’s vital to tackling the crisis in adult social care.

To learn more about our approach, read our white paper, Data: The Key to Efficient and Effective Local Government, or get in touch to discuss how we can help.