Embracing the potential of technology will be a pivotal factor in bringing health and social care closer together.
With social workers and health professionals working in closer together to deliver patient-centred care, the use of IT and data analytics can help focus that care delivery, whether in the home, the wider community or in a hospital setting.
The opportunities presented by technology in delivering better health and social care were highlighted at the EHI Live conference
in Birmingham on November 1 & 2.
Big Data and health and social care integration were among the themes running through the UK’s largest digital health event, where better use of technology and data by social workers
and healthcare professionals, and the development of discreet wearable monitoring devices for patients, emerged as a key area in delivering more joined-up care for patients.
Big Data opportunities
One of the strands of the conference surrounded how Big Data offers opportunities within a health and social care setting.
With capability to process and model data in areas such as predictive analytics, mathematical modelling and segmenting populations - and combine it with ‘community data’ such as transport, housing and weather stats - Dr Mark Davies, Medical Director of healthcare analytics company MedeAnalytics
, said such data is available to better understand the broader eco-system of the population.
This has the potential to be used, accessed and analysed by social care personnel to help target care more efficiently.
Examples could include combining data on people at risk of respiratory disease with weather or pollution data, or analysing populations at risk of falling – an area where MedeAnalytics has developed an algorithm combining primary care data and secondary care data – and can be available to the social care workforce to identify, target and proactively respond to those deemed vulnerable.
Information architecture for the individual
Dr Davies, previously National Clinical Director for NHS Connecting for Health, believes Big Data will deliver improved clinical outcomes and bring health and social care closer together through its ability to “join up” systems, break down barriers and create an “information architecture built around the individual.”
“If you put the individual at the centre of things, it forces different sectors involved in their care to interoperate and share information meaningfully to create a much more coordinated approach to care,” he said.
Wearable devices support client independence
Wearable monitoring devices have the potential to help clients play a more active role in their own care by delivering individual health and care solutions.
They can alert health professionals, social workers and carers when a person may be unwell or requires assistance but also help maintain their independence for longer.
One example quoted in a session on wearable devices at EHI Live was how sensors around a property had supported a man in his own home for longer, rather than having to go into a care setting.
Another illustrated how wearable devices monitor body temperature on the elderly and send an alert to social workers when a person’s temperature drops significantly.
Need for new products
However, Linda Whalley, Director of Strategy at the Health and Social Care Information Centre (now NHS Digital), pointed out there remained a technology gap between health and social care and suggested that as well as a collaborative approach between the two sectors, new products may need to be developed to meet specific social care requirements.
She also warned that this needs to be a consistently developed across the country to avoid a “technology post-code lottery” in the way there were post-code inconsistencies in prescribing and offering health services.