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Still no large-scale adoption of digital care, report reveals

Only a handful of care organisations, councils and housing providers are delivering digital care in people’s homes

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Only a handful of care organisations, councils and housing providers are delivering digital care in people’s homes at scale, a new report has revealed. 

Despite evidence that using technology in social care helps to reduce hospital admissions, speed up emergency response times and reduce long waits for in-person interventions, there is no large-scale use of digital services. 

The report by TEC Action Alliance, which brings together over 30 care organisations nationally, found that while there are isolated examples of activity, there is little integration within the broader social care and health ecosystem. 

It calls on care commissioners and suppliers to listen carefully to what people want and co-produce their services and products with individuals to ensure there is enhanced focus on personal needs.

Alyson Scurfield, CEO of TEC Services Association (TSA) and co-chair of the TEC Action Alliance said: “At a time of immense pressure on NHS and social care services, digital care services can put power in the hands of people, helping them to self-manage their own health and live the life they want to lead. 

“We’ve found some pockets of good technology-enabled care but still no national adoption. To address this, we must understand how technology-enabled care can be better personalised and scaled.”

Over the past five months, the TEC Action Alliance has heard evidence from a range of people who draw on care, along with frontline workers and leaders in care, health, housing and local government.

Over 2,000 people were surveyed on their attitudes towards, and use of technology enabled care (TEC) and focus groups held with individuals who have lived experience. Research into housing associations, councils and health bodies that use technology to integrate care services has also been conducted.

Although survey results indicate a strong appetite amongst people of all ages to use technology in health and care – 86 per cent said they are likely or extremely likely to use it in the future – evidence also shows this potential isn’t yet being realised. 

Only 18 per cent of respondents currently use telecare or telehealth services and half of these people use it less than once a week. 

Barriers include safety concerns, a lack of confidence and perceptions that digital care is expensive.

Research shows that digital social care services reduce ambulance trips to A&E by 68 per cent, they help 85 per cent of people remain at home if emergency calls are handled by TEC responder teams, they cut emergency response times to 30 mins, and help to refer 40 per cent of people to community services rather than formal social care (compared to seven per cent pre-pandemic).

As well as calling for person-centred care, it asks that health and care data is shared more widely, with consent, to enable a joined-up response, locally. 

In addition, the report recommends that care technology is integrated within broader NHS plans around virtual wards, and that funding is made available for preventative technology, proactively supporting people at home rather than purely for hospital discharge.

In the next stage of its work, the TEC Action Alliance will identify how to bridge the divide between personalising and scaling services. An action paper will be developed to evidence the relationship between engaging people who draw on care and delivering successful outcomes.

Clenton Farquharson, chair of Think Local Act Personal (TLAP) and co-chair of the TEC Action Alliance said: “Currently, we talk about digitising social care, health and housing: re-engineering systems and processes. What I don’t hear about are ‘technology-enabled lives’, where the ambitions and aspirations of the individual come first, made possible by digital. 

“This paper is a welcome opportunity to rethink technology-enabled care and what people actually want from it. It’s a chance to step back from the equipment, solutions and systems and re-evaluate what really matters.”

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