The government's proposals for reforming the social care sector are far-ranging. In the white paper People at the Heart of Care and later documents, measures addressing the challenges to adopting digital technology in social care range from making costs consistent and fairer to improving staff training.
A key area of the proposals, however, involves the adoption of digital technology in social care. This has many obvious advantages, such as making it quicker and more accurate to create a care plan, but there are also challenges to implementing these reforms.
The Current State of Digital Technology in the Care Sector
A study last year by Digital Social Care found that uptake of digital technology in care organisations has improved in recent years but still has a long way to go. 20% of organisations rated themselves as "experts" in digital technology, and only 14% as "novices". In 2019, 24% were novices.
This is movement in the right direction, of course, but it still leaves 80% of organisations needing to improve their skills. At the same time, while 14% is a relatively small percentage, it does represent a substantial number of care organisations that have little or no skill in digital technology.
Barriers to Adopting Digital Technology in Social Care
Another study, by the IPC, provides a breakdown of the causes given by care organisations for barriers to adopting digital technology. The full table is given below, and we'll look in more detail at some of these reasons.
Lack of Resources to Invest in Appropriate Technology
Many care organisations, especially at the smaller end of the sector, are sometimes operating on a very limited budget. They are faced with rising costs, particularly around staffing, and a funding system which has not kept pace.
The government is aware of the challenge and has released a white paper proposing to overhaul the way fair costs are calculated between local authorities and care organisations. When implemented, this should ease the financial burden on organisations, while the government's programme to roll out digital technology in the sector may also help with costs. Providers should also consider that careful selection of digital technology can, at its best, also mitigate costs for example where it automates time-consuming processes and reduces time spent by staff on admin.
Time and Costs to Invest in Upskilling Staff
Just as resources for buying in technology is limited, many organisations also find it difficult to find both time and financial resources to train staff to use the technology. Again, the government is planning to invest money into providing digital training for the care sector.
Care providers should look for digital solutions which are easy to use and learn. An ideal solution, however, especially for smaller organisations, is to be able to try digital technologies free, so that the benefits can be tested at no risk.
Staff Are Resistant to Using Digital Technology
It's natural for people to feel uncertain about new ways of doing things and prefer the practices they're familiar with. A common misconception among some staff is that digital technology will take longer and require more work.
The best way to counter this attitude is to give staff access to the technology to try it and see the benefits. When they understand how the technology works, they'll come to appreciate that it will actually make their job easier and leave more time for them to spend with the people they're caring for.
Lack of Skills to Make Decisions on the Best System for the Organisation
The IPC study found that a significant number of care organisation owners weren't IT literate enough to answer the questionnaire themselves and passed the task on to a manager.
While this isn't in itself necessarily a barrier to the adoption of digital technology, it does raise concern. Without clearly understanding digital technology, these owners may either be slower to adopt or choose inappropriate systems. This makes it essential to take expert advice on the choice of technology. Once again, the ability to try the technology for free can help overcome this barrier.
Problems with WiFi Connection
A statistic of some concern is the relatively low access to 5G. While most (though not all) organisations now have the basic digital technologies (e.g. computers, internet access and essential software such as MS Office), 80% don't have 5G, limiting the efficiency of their digital technologies. Care providers should therefore consider how different digital technologies will work with poor or no WiFi or internet connection. Some technologies can work completely offline.
Confidence in the Security of Digital Systems
Both studies identified security as a major concern, both basic cyber security and data management, while organisations expressed concern about the security of new systems. Most organisations have a named person responsible for data protection, as well as having up-to-date cyber security. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the protection is robust, and in many cases, there appears to be more to do.
Perhaps the biggest security issue lies with employees using their own devices. While security on company-owned devices is usually strong, policies around BYOD (bring your own device) tend to be patchy. This is more likely to be an issue for non-residential care, where carers need to access resources remotely, but BYOD is found in residential settings, too.
In general, as with most security issues, larger organisations are more likely to have policies in place around BYOD and security in general. Government investment will help smaller organisations to improve their security, but it will be crucial for them to find a digital provider who will work with them to put in place security policies around the specific technology.
Lack of Appropriate Systems for Social Care
Going forward, any care organisation will need digital technology that can make its admin, care plans and data collection safer and more efficient, allowing its carers to devote more time to providing top-class care.
Qwikify can help care providers address the barriers associated with adopting digital technology. Our mobile app is free, allowing care providers to try it and see the benefits at no risk or cost. It's easy to use, with no need for formal training, and it can be used offline when there is no WiFi or mobile signal. Get in touch with us to find out more.