Social care is set to grow like never before.  From a political standpoint, the latest long-term vision of Theresa May and Matt Hancock (the 10-year strategy of the NHS) strongly supports a growth in social care.

Whilst the specifics of the Green Paper may be delayed, at least our politicians are already united on the fact that more people than ever before will need to be looked after in community-based care.

There’s good reason for this growth too.  The quality of care, and quality of life, for service users receiving home care appears to be more cost effective than achieving the same in a residential context.  A recent study found that older people who opt for live-in care, when they can no longer care for themselves, are happier, healthier and financially better off than those living in a care home.

With an estimated 13.25 million UK residents expected to be aged 65 or over in 2030, the demand for home care is set to rise to levels never seen before.  It’s currently estimated that the care sector needs to recruit 128,000 new workers each year to replace those who retire or leave.  In 2016, the latest data we have, the sector managed to recruit just 20,000.  This is considerably down from 65,000 recruited in 2010!

Growth at the required rate is only achievable if social care providers learn to do more with less.  Tighter budgets and increased recruitment challenges already drive a worrying number of care providers out of business.

Technology is key to this growth.

From a political perspective, the digital agenda is being driven forwards by Matt Hancock.  He states a ‘tech revolution’ is coming; outlining his plans for the use of digital technology in health and social care in this  ‘The Future of Healthcare’ policy paper.

This paper conveys palpable frustration with the state of many existing systems, talking of the reliance on paper-based systems as workarounds to slow and clunky technology.

A New Approach to Technology in Social Care

It doesn’t stop there; for all of us in the social care sector this provides a valuable insight into the likely top-down direction on technology in social care.  The paper refers to ready-made, off-the-shelf technologies which are already available.  Somewhat at odds with the traditional approach in the healthcare sector.  The document says: “We should be using the best off-the-shelf technology where our needs are like everyone else’s, and not building bespoke solutions where they are not needed.”

As part of this commitment to modernising NHS digital services, Hancock talks about moving en masse to the public cloud: “We start with the assumption that all our services should run in the public cloud with no more locally managed servers.”

Even the CQC is embracing digital like never before, with their first appointment of a Chief Digital Officer (Mark Sutton) starting in April 2019.  To quote Mark on his statement about the appointment “By streamlining technology, we’ll not only make working life better for our colleagues, but make every aspect of the work we do more efficient too.” – a view also likely applied when evaluating care providers.

Efficiency is just the start of it though.  Through the right application of technology, care can become more personalised, timely and effective.  We touch on a few of the most compelling benefits below.  Take a moment to reflect on how your business is using technology to meet the challenges of today and opportunities of the future.

The Benefits of Automation in the Management of Social Care

One of the cornerstones of technology in social care is the ability to automate and save time.  An inherent benefit of automation is the electronic processing of data.  This removes the need to copy-paste, or manually transfer, and the associated risk of human error or delay.

Consistency, Best-Practice and Professional Output

Automation also leads to greater consistency in output and approach.  If a system is set to process data, it needs to be told how to do this.  Setting best-practice approaches to every automated step is done once, at setup, ensuring high standards are maintained for the lifetime of the system.

From an external perspective, automation can be easily tuned to produce more consistent and professional outputs.  For example, invoices can be generated at the touch of a button – pulling in hours of care and other details, displayed in a consistently professional layout.  Timesheets and associated payroll calculations can also be generated in a clear and methodical fashion.

Automate Invoices to Improve Cash flow

As budgets shrink and care demands increase, social care agencies need to run a tighter ship and manage cash flow like never before.  With over 22% of invoices paid late due to incorrect details, it’s easy to see the role automation can play – removing human error – to reduce unnecessary delays.

Keeping all your appointment data in one system, enables accurate invoices to be generated and even emailed out in a few clicks.  This reduces errors and delays, improving cash flow.

Never Miss Commitments to Care Delivery

Scheduling care appointments and medicine delivery electronically, via online care rotas and eMARs, allows for the setting of reminders and alerts to ensure commitments are never missed.

With an electronic rostering system, such as CarePlanner, you can set detailed care requirements and medicine dosages for each appointment.  Carers then tick off delivery of these and record the outcome of each appointment or task.  This level of detail can be used to ensure carers acknowledge and respond to each commitment, in turn, before they can mark a call as complete.

Improved Quality of Care

No one would deny that better information leads to better care.  Electronic systems for recording care plans and turning them into scheduled appointments, replete with task and medication detail, are raising the quality of care across the world.

Furthermore, information captured through mobile devices on the outcomes of each call, or detailed outcomes from tasks/medications undertaken, provides feedback to refine future care.

Care management technology provides opportunities to report and analyse in greater depth than ever before.  Analysis begets insight – which, in turn, leads to better delivery of care.

Matching carers with service users’ needs and preferences can prove to be a complex task on its own, before taking carer availability and location into account.  There is an increasing use of technology to determine the optimal scheduling of carers to appointments.  This does more than saves scheduling time, it ensures a better allocation of available resources – resulting in a better quality of care.

It’s small wonder that an increasing proportion of social care providers, especially the 2% rated Outstanding by the CQC, rely on technology to enhance the quality of care they deliver.

The Role of Rostering Software in Domiciliary Care

The care roster sits at the heart of social care, defining what care is planned, for whom, when and where.  Rostering which carers will deliver the care planned on the schedule can prove a complex task when taking into account the following variables:

  • Availability of care workers (including holiday and training commitments)
  • Location of care workers at any point in time (nearest to an appointment should gain preference)
  • Care worker skills, competence and formal qualifications
  • Service user preferences
  • Care worker preferences
  • Care worker allocation to date (avoiding overallocation and falling foul of minimum wage commitments)
  • Familiarity/continuity – matching the same carer and service user over time

It’s easy to see why more and more care providers seek out eRostering or intelligent rostering solutions such as CarePlanner.  All of the above factors can be taken into account, even given different priority weightings, and recommendations can be made automatically by the system.

Coping with Change, Automatically

Anyone who’s tried to schedule carers to a rota before will know that things change.  Sometimes at the last minute!  Electronic rostering makes rescheduling easier.

Appointments can be grouped into runs where they are geographically close, so changes to the rota are still optimised to minimise travel.

Additionally, appointments can be grouped and connected where there is a dependency from one to another – if one early appointment gets changed, this can automatically update those later in the group.

One System; From Appointment to Invoice

Given that invoices are generated to charge for appointments, it makes perfect sense to run both processes on the same system.  This approach ensures they share the same underlying data, removing the need to copy-paste or calculate what should be invoiced to whom.

Each rota lists the calls.  When they are marked as complete, this data flows into the pool of completed calls to be invoiced.

Rostering matches a specific care worker with each appointment on the roster, so on completion of each call it is known how much work (and even travel) the associated care worker has completed.  This makes timesheet generation automatic.

Going even further, recording holiday and training time in the same system, provides a complete view of what needs to be paid to each care worker at the end of the month.

Technology Beyond the Care Management System

Managing care is a hugely important focus for in social care, but the role of technology stretches far beyond this.  Virtually every aspect of interaction with service users will feel the benefits of technological advancements over the coming years.  Whether this is bringing Amazon’s Alexa into service users’ homes to enhance their connection