The need for remote working and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in home care providers reviewing their processes and realising the benefits of going digital, leading suppliers tell HCI.
Back in May, during a virtual LaingBuisson conference, leaders in the sector said a greater use of technology in home care will be “one of the good things” to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a poll, 48% of delegates said more use of technology will be the thing that will most impact home care providers after the pandemic, with 30% believing there will be more local authority funding, 12% better commissioning and 10% easier staffing with more availability and appeal for the sector.
One of the keynote speakers, Dr Jane Townson, CEO of United Kingdom Homecare Association, told viewers: “Quite a number of our members are already engaging directly with providers of these [digital tools and solutions].
“I think we are going to see quite a big change, in a good way, in the coming months, and if anything good comes out of this awful pandemic, this may well be one of them.”
Now, four months on, home care software suppliers have told HCI that they have seen a huge uptick in enquiries, with dozens more customers joining their platforms during the pandemic.
“We’ve been amazed by the readiness and desire of providers to embrace digital solutions,” says Max Parmentier, CEO of Birdie, a tool designed to help home care providers manage their care and make their agency smarter.
Like most organisations, Birdie saw an initial dip in interest during the initial stages of the pandemic, as providers’ attention turned to the immediate concerns of lockdown.
However, once home care agencies began to adapt to new models of working – i.e. remotely – the supplier started to see an increase in interest and awareness of digital technologies.
CarePlanner operations director Mark Anslow relates to this experience, explaining: “Once care managers were able to resource their teams to deal with self-isolating patients, we saw a surge in demand for our software. June saw a record number of enquiries, with dozens of new providers joining our platform.”
CareLineLive has seen a three-fold increase in enquiries for its cloud-based home care management system, which digitises agencies’ workflows, making their businesses more efficient and giving carers more time to care. It has also seen an increase in demos being booked each week.
“As remote working has become the norm, prospective customers became accustomed to online demos,” says Josh Hough, managing director of CareLineLive.
“Our customer support team has been adept at managing the remote on-boarding of clients to enable our customers to be up and running quickly, with minimal disruption to their day-to-day operations.”
We’ve been amazed by the readiness and desire of care providers to embrace digital solutions
Unique IQ has also seen a surge in demand, particularly for the digital communication elements of its solutions, such as its client and family portal, and digital tools, such as its eMAR solution.
“Every single care provider we work with has pivoted to digital ways of working in some way during the pandemic,” explains managing director David Lynes.
“For some, it was using tools they already had available in a new way. For others, it was to resolve a small, medium or large challenge. But some providers have completely changed the way they work. Every care provider has experienced digital transformation to a varying degree.”
Catalyst for change
So what has led to the increased demand for digital home care solutions during the COVID-19 crisis, and how have these tools benefited providers throughout this challenging period?
Lynes believes a change in behaviour triggered by the pandemic has opened up care providers to trying new things that they didn’t feel were a priority before.
“For example, switching from paper to digital forms might have seemed like a big hurdle for carers or a major project for the organisation to take on. But when change was happening all around, it perhaps seemed less insurmountable to introduce new digital ways of working,” he explains.
“There was also less resistance to change as carers could see that digital processes were safer. We’d say that the crisis has been the catalyst for a change that had been on the back burner fora while.”
CareLineLive has seen the changing needs of home care providers, such as the need to work remotely, lead to an accelerated use of home care management software to maximise their efficiency, but also to provide better care.
“CareLineLive’s cloud-based software has allowed our customers to easily work remotely. One of our customers said that closing their office made almost no difference to their operations because of having all the data and information they needed digitally,” says Hough.
Providers have also benefited from the company’s Carer Companion mobile app, which has kept carers up-to-date about client requirements in real-time.
Hough adds: “The app provides real-time rota information, check-in/out and eMAR/visit tasks information. Our real-time call monitoring has facilitated managers to locate their carers for a social distanced PPE delivery. All reducing unnecessary office visits.”
As a sector of more than 18,500 home care providers in the UK, roughly 70% operate their business on paper, according to research carried out by Person Centred Software. This fragmented system means that during COVID-19 it was almost impossible to build a real-time picture of what’s been happening in the home care sector.
Given the struggles that domiciliary care providers faced during the height of the crisis; the CEO of Birdie says it’s clear that change needs to be made and that digital systems can directly benefit home care providers.
“Rising costs related to PPE and staffing, for example, means providers need to improve their margins. Digital helps by removing the costs of paper and storage, plus fuel and people costs in collecting paper comms sheets,” explains Parmentier.
“The pandemic has highlighted that care needs to be responsive,” he adds. “Updating and managing changes in care on paper is a slow process – digital systems can aid this.”
The crisis has been the catalyst for a change that had been on the back burner for a while.
Using a digital system also means providers can immediately respond to missed medication errors, which may otherwise may not be highlighted until month-end.
Birdie’s software has allowed for remote working of office staff; enabled staff to respond to changing needs in real time; ensured that staff have the latest information in real time; and kept family members informed of their loved ones’ wellbeing when they couldn’t be there in person.
Meanwhile, CarePlanner customers have also benefited from going digital.
“Our Diary feature allows for up-to-date note-taking during visits and communication between administrators,” says Anslow.
“And our mobile application is used to send important updates, as well as uplifting messages from the central office to carers in the field. This is crucial as it helps preserve the communal spirit that lies at the heart of care.”
He adds: “We’re more keenly aware than ever before how little time rota administrators have on their hands, so our drag-and-drop rostering system has been a real winner. It allows for quick and efficient updates to carers’ rosters and schedules – a vital tool when trying to juggle a team of carers and service users who may have to self-isolate at a moment’s notice.”
Technology has proved to be invaluable in enabling home care providers to better understand the best ways to support their clients, particularly during lockdown.
It has allowed them to gain instant insights into their clients’ well-being, and respond to these insights in real time.
The goal of digital solutions suppliers is not to replace the human touch, but to provide trustworthy data and leave the decisions about what actions should be taken up to the care provider.
“Whilst AI continues to make great strides, it has come nowhere near the level of intuition and adaptability built into any human care coordinator,” says Anslow.
“So, we have focussed on making as much information available –in the most suitable format – to rota administrators and registered managers as possible. We’ve continued to add new capabilities to our reporting systems, and we’ve invested heavily in the development of our API, which allows CarePlanner to interact with other care management, finance and HR systems.
“Easy-to-generate reports give overviews of medication and care delivery, and alerts warn administrators if care workers are running late. The more accurate the picture, the better you can support your clients going forward.”
Parmentier agrees, adding: “Digital assessments can help providers to see a holistic overview of their client’s health and wellbeing, even when they’re not in the office. By eliminating paper files, when things change they can amend care plans accordingly, which in turn leads to care that’s responsive, reactive and, overall, more aligned with the needs of a client.”
Home care providers using CareLineLine have also witnessed how technology enables better person-centred care.
“For example, CareLineLive’s alerts for unattended visits or missed medication allow providers to be more responsive. Specific tasks that need to be recorded at visits as ‘completed’ increase quality of care,” explains Hough.
The way forward
Looking into the future, suppliers are excited about the potential technology has to make meaningful improvements to standards of care.
“For us, it’s joining up data about care that could have the biggest impact,” says Lynes. “Connecting data relating to care, and using big data analysis techniques, such as machine learning, can provide powerful insights into an individual’s needs, meaning care providers can be even more responsive.”
Unique IQ believes this connected data has a role to play in building up a nationwide dataset for care; an evidence base that the home care sector desperately needs to improve levels of both recognition and investment.
“Care software providers are uniquely placed to make this happen,” the MD adds.
“We already gather huge amounts of information as home care organisations increasingly digitise their processes. We’d love to see tech providers collaborating more to make data-sharing easier, so that providers can access a picture of a person’s care needs that are built on a deep understanding of both their individual circumstances and a substantial base of evidence and trends.”
Hough from CareLineLive agrees that data sharing is the way forward in shaping the future of care provision and highlighting where improvements can be made.
“We think there will be an increasing demand for enabling the sharing of information between providers, aiding joined-up care and shared decision making,” he says.
“We also believe there will be an increased demand for the integration of IoT products to access information remotely about a client’s wellbeing and there will be developments into how we integrate a family’s/client’s choice into care provision to offer more tailored care.”
CarePlanner believes that digital solutions will play a defining role in helping carers to provide for the specific needs of their service users.
“The reporting capabilities of home care software alone have allowed many of our clients to generate fresh insight into the effectiveness of specific care types for a range of service users,” says Anslow.
“And, by opening up the data available in our system through the development of our API, we intend to help our clients embrace a wider ecosystem of digital technologies and products, rather than locking them into one platform. We don’t know what those products might offer, but we do know that we want our users to be able to take advantage of any technology that might help make care delivery easier, safer, more cost-effective, and more personal.”
Finally, Birdie expects that the future of technology means adopting new ways of working and connecting the care people receive at home with other parts of the social care system.
“Social care can be the missing link in sharing information – carers often hold information that GPs and other health professionals may not be aware of, as they are the ones who visit and see older adults every day. They record and share information that can have immense benefits across services,” explains Parmentier.
“By empowering carers to make specific observations to support other health pathways and treatments, we can play a greater role in how home care is being delivered across sectors – and using digital systems to underpin this only makes information sharing easier.”