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With the Care Act 2014 placing greater emphasis on digital technology, we take a look at its growing application in the sphere of adult social care.

We live in an era where digital technology interfaces with every aspect of our lives.
Social media, apps on our mobile phones and the internet/email as means of communicating can make our lives easier; sharing holiday snaps with our friends, recording information or booking rail tickets, for example. Yet when it comes to applying such technology in our working lives, we can become less confident and more cautious, particularly in a social work scenario as the information we may be collecting, collating, storing or working with is often sensitive and highly confidential.

Working smarter with digital technology

Using digital technology, however, can be secure and help us work more efficiently and more effectively. It helps us work smarter and moves us in the direction social care is heading.

Indeed, a key tenet of the Care Act 2014 is a requirement to more widely embrace digital technology. And adult social care service users may also expect to see greater use of technology too. 

In reality, use of digital technology in adult social care should not come as a major issue for most social work practitioners and carers who are digitally literate. In fact, research conducted by Skills for Care last year showed that more than 95% of social work staff and managers use digital technology in their work. And the great majority of the 500 managers and staff in adult social care services, who were asked about their digital capabilities, experiences and attitudes, were strongly positive about the potential of digital technology to improve efficiency and quality of care services.

Bridging the gap

There are already vivid examples of how technology is bridging the gap between practitioner and service user, and – in compliance with the Care Act – bringing the health and social care sectors closer together.

While digital technologies have more commonly been associated with business and communications, they are now having a growing role in the delivery of social care and being increasingly harnessed to plan and record services in a direct way with the service-users they support.

Some residential homes have digital reporting systems using tablets for care plans, risk assessments, health assessments, safeguarding, medication, documenting resident’s care and reducing paperwork.

Meeting the digital need

Challenges associated with using digital technology, particularly with a mobile workforce, and significantly in rural areas where broadband coverage is limited, do remain. There can also be lower than anticipated staff digital skills, though this can be remedied with relevant training. 

Various practical events have been held across the country to help local authorities and their staff meet the requirements of the Care Act, which comes into effect in April. In one recent session, teams looked at developing the concept of a self-service online portal that would help all local authorities provide information without duplication, and users to access information and advice anonymously.

There are a number of companies meeting these increased digital needs such as TotalMobile - a mobile solution provider with mobile products that simplify workflow - and Liquidlogic, which provides the public sector with software solutions to support integrated care, particularly across social care and health, and in children’s services.

Technology brings health and social care closer together

Digital technology is already being deployed in the London Borough of Islington to allow professionals from across health and social care to share patient discharge information electronically.

Islington Council and The Whittington Hospital went live earlier this year with the Adapter Project – devised by the Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) – with both organisations partnering software providers Liquidlogic, System C and Quicksilva to implement the system. 

With hold-ups in the exchange of information commonly leading to delayed discharges from acute settings into the community, the HSCIC hope that in time several hospitals and social care departments across London can participate in the project, and reduce reliance on traditional communication methods such as faxes or the post.

In this case, social care teams at Islington Council will receive automated alerts from the Whittington’s Medway PAS direct into their Liquidlogic case management system. It will flag that a vulnerable adult in the Whittington’s care is about to be discharged from hospital, and will ensure that services and support can be put into place at the point of the patient’s discharge.

Meanwhile, in the north-west of England digital technology is being used to share information about at-risk youngsters between social workers, health professionals and other agencies.

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