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Looking through the wrong end of the telescope

Written by Christine Asbury, Chief Executive of WCS Care Group

Improving the experience of older people through technology.

In March, Skills for Care asked me to talk at their Digital Leadership conferences about our experience of leading the introduction of technology to our 12 care homes in Warwickshire. They wanted me to talk about the business case for investment in digital technology and reflect on efficiency as well as benefits. Apparently, that was going to inspire people attending to invest.  Oh really!

I didn’t talk about that very much, because it isn’t what drives us to introduce technology: this just isn’t about efficiency.  I think that the reason assistive technology has been so hard to cascade across the care sector is that policy makers try to push it to reduce spend and manage stretched financial and people resources.  Ultimately we are talking about a people industry and it’s people who need to adopt this stuff.

Does my Dad with Alzheimers care that his “clock” (actually a tablet device called a homehelper  www.myhomehelper.co.uk) is more cost-effective than a home care worker visiting to remind him to take his medication? Is he going to use it for that reason?  Of course not.  He uses it because he doesn’t know what day or time it is and what he’s supposed to be doing, and this is constantly in his eye line reminding him.  It’s meaningful to him.

Just to be clear, it’s not that technology doesn’t deliver efficiencies; or that there isn’t a business case for investment.  It’s just that we’re looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. In our care homes WCS Care has introduced technology such as electronic care planning using handheld devices; acoustic listening technology; tablet communication devices; for one reason only: because it improves the experience of the people living with us.  Not because it’s saving money; not because we are excited about the piece of kit.  It’s actually about a culture that focuses on ensuring people have fun and pleasure every day; technology is just an enabler of that: what we do HAS to improve the experience of someone living in one of our homes:

  • more choice in their lives
  • improved communication and social interaction
  • making life more interesting and more fun

Yes, it has the potential to deliver efficiencies too, but that’s an added bonus that helps us feel confident we can invest.  It isn’t why we do it.

And I think the policy focus on the domiciliary care market is misguided too.  I understand the drive to support people to live in their own homes for as long as possible, but most elderly people don’t understand technology and too much of it gets popped in a drawer or switched off at the mains.  In a care home, there are staff around to remind you to use your tablet device; to set up that episode of Only Fools and horses you enjoy, or the skype call to your daughter in Glasgow.  If we embedded technology in care homes it would be much easier to cascade it out the other way because we would have confident, life enhancing technologies and implementation models that would really inspire people!

And another thing, when we were designing our latest home, we looked around for experts to help us specify state of the art technology in care homes and guess what?  There aren’t any.  So we became the experts and our new build home opening in November has lots of life enhancing technologies that will improve the experience of people living there.

So that’s my view: it’s about people and it’s about leadership, and you can do it now.  So why wouldn’t you?

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