The head of Digitally Enabled Care at Hampshire County Council has shared how his team has innovated to support vulnerable people during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Speaking during the Innovation and Independent Living webinar* last week, Mark Allen described how technology-enabled care (TEC) has helped deliver positive outcomes for people living in their own homes.
Here, HCI shares what we learned from Allen’s keynote speech.
SOS phone system
“Like all social care authorities, we had to respond to the change in environment and ensure people were discharged from hospital very, very quickly,” said Allen.
In line with this, Hampshire CC expanded its SOS phone system so anyone going home from hospital could be given emergency TEC on rapid discharge.
“This meant people could go home within two to three house with some technology, and we’d later undertake a full assessment,” said Allen.
The council also developed self-installation and socially-distanced installation options for service users who were worried about a TEC installer entering their home.
Wellbeing Automated Call Service
Hampshire CC also set up a Wellbeing Automated Call Service (WACS) to identify the support needs of the 53,000 people shielding in the region.
Developed in collaboration with PA Consulting and its alliance partner, Amazon Web Services, the automated outbound call system asked people how they were and if they needed help.
If the answer was “yes”, WACS connected the resident to HCC’s coronavirus helpline, HantsHelp4Vulnerable, to arrange support.
At its peak, WACS made 2,500 calls each day to shielding residents.
“What this meant was we were able to free up our human resources to focus on those who needed help, rather than devoting precious time and human resources to making 50,000 phone calls,” said Allen.
“WACS was set up over the course of five days and it went live the following week, making calls to vulnerable people. We made in excess of over 53,000 calls over the course of two or three weeks.”
Asked how comfortable people were in responding to WACS, Allen said: “Very comfortable, actually.”
He added: “It wasn’t an AI voice, it was actually one of the partners of one of the developers in Northern Ireland. People were actually quite responsive, particularly when they understood that if they had further questions that they wanted to ask that were then transferred to a person.”
Six collaborative robots (Cobots) were also deployed to assist stretched care workers in caring for people returning home from hospital, reduce the number of care workers going into people’s homes and maintain socially distant care provision.
Cobots are worn around the lower back and actively support carers in moving objects or supporting people. Using electrodes, cobots can also detect electrical signals between the wearer’s brain and their muscles and convert this into motion.
“We put in place a programme to look at how we could more effectively use robotics in care, mainly because we are looking at a significant deficit of care workers in the system over three years, so we were trying to look at how we could use technology in innovative ways to meet that challenge,” says Allen.
“What we found was that by using these devices, they did aid in socially distanced care provision and it did mean that carers were able to perform tasks that they may have doubled up on.
“It also protected the carer from musculoskeletal damage and they were reporting less strain and fatigue.”
On lessons being learned during the ongoing pandemic, Allen said: “We are, in relation to telecare type services, used to linking up individuals to reactive systems. Something happens, we respond to support or affect the situation in some way.
“What we are learning – and doing in the case of Hampshire CC – is that more and more individuals want to interact with systems that they have far more control over.
“In the case of the COVID period, we have learnt that individuals, their carers and families are interested in these types of support services.”
*Innovation in Independent Living series of webinars were sponsored by Secure, the developers of Beanbag Care, a new range of independent living solutions.