How technology can put the ‘home’ into ‘care homes’

Photo of care home nurse showing iPad to resident and their relative

What might we think of when we hear the term ‘care home’?

We might imagine rooms that look a little different, with walk-in baths, handrails and emergency alarms.

We might envisage nursing staff checking the health of residents.

We might picture medication trolleys wheeled around, rattling with medicines as they go.

These are all typical care home scenes. But they discount a crucial aspect of these places: that they are homes.

It’s a subtle but important distinction. Being homes, they must go beyond medical care to help residents enjoy a comfortable, rewarding and rich life – just as we all strive for in our own homes and our lives.

Technology can be a huge help where this is concerned. But before we consider how, it’s worth spending a few moments on the bigger picture.

Person-centred care

If you work in a care home, you’ll already know that the CQC (Care Quality Commission) is the independent regulator for England’s health and social care sector.

The CQC inspects, reviews, and rates social care organisations, having the power to order improvements or shut homes. And among the criteria it uses to do this are its 13 ‘fundamental standards’.

One of these standards, ‘person-centred care’, sets out that residents must be at the heart of their care. It requires that residents are treated as individuals with unique needs, and they must be closely involved in the planning and monitoring of their care.

As an example of how this might work in the real world, consider an imaginary resident. Let’s call her Joan.

She has always taken pride in her appearance but now finds getting dressed a little tricky due to arthritis.

Joan is a private woman, so she would like a female carer to lay out her chosen outfit then wait in the bathroom next door while she dresses, in case she has any difficulties.

On days where her arthritis flares up in her hands, Joan might need help buttoning her blouse and applying her makeup and nail polish.

Once she is ready, Joan feels more confident, sociable and prepared for the day ahead. And painting her nails in her favourite shade brings back happy memories of her wedding day.

This example does not entail a great degree of ‘medical’ assistance – the things that we might imagine are the mainstay of healthcare.

But it does involve listening closely to Joan, understanding what makes her tick, and developing a plan of care that puts her first. Doing so can help her feel respected and valued. And doing this for every resident is what makes a care home a real home-from-home.

And this is why thoughtfully-designed care plans are essential to person-centred care. It’s also one area in which technology can help.

Digital care plans

More and more organisations – in more and more sectors – are moving towards paperless systems. The care sector is no different, and for good reason.

But let’s take a step back. Historically, care plans have some similarities with the folder you might see hooked at the end of a hospital bed. But there are drawbacks with this approach:

  • Being in one place, staff must visit the bed to update the records.
  • It’s not easy to share this paper record between staff, across teams and departments.
  • To use their time efficiently, staff members might save all their note-taking for one period, meaning there may be a delay between talking with a patient, or resident, and recording the conversation. This can, in turn, mean important details – like Joan’s favourite nail polish – get forgotten.

Of course, more than ever, digital technology is being used to record notes like this. But putting them on a static desktop computer in a nursing station still poses similar problems.

One care home that we work with closely has found a solution to this. It has now installed care plan software on a suite of tablets. This means care plans are easily accessible, everywhere and at all times.

The care home is using Person Centred Software. We have no affiliation with this software developer, but we know that it has made a hugely positive difference to staff – and ultimately, to residents.

It’s helped the care home iron out these wrinkles in care plans. And when you make improvements to lots of little things, they all add up to a big difference.

Enriching entertainment

As with our own homes, a big part of making a care home a rewarding place to live is to offer a mix of leisure activities.

TVs are one such aspect of entertainment. Typically, residents’ rooms each have one – as do communal areas. But in many cases, these TVs function in a traditional sense – that is, they are the glowing box in the corner of the room that might make us laugh or groan. Ultimately, they’re a passive form of entertainment.

But they can be much more than this. Again, using our client as an example, this care home has installed internet-connected smart TVs and, through them, now runs various software designed to enrich residents’ lives.

Interactive Me, for example, is one application this home uses in its smart TVs. It’s software that allows family members to send their relatives digital media – like images, music and video. It can work as a family photo album, or provide a collection of internet-sourced media that will entertain the resident. One family created a library of images, sounds, and articles about Italy to help their grandparent recall their fond memories of growing up there.

Another smart TV application used by our client is Care Messenger. As the name implies, this is a messenging service that residents and their families can use to stay in touch. It allows for the sharing of rich media, but is designed for simplicity – so residents can interact through their remote control. The care home can also use it to send messages and news to residents, rather like an internal noticeboard.

In the age where Facebook, Twitter and the like are so widely used, it may seem unnecessary to have standalone applications like these – with features similar to those we see in social media. But social media can be complex and intimidating for people who have not grown up with such platforms. And so, incorporating simple apps into televisions is a more accessible, ‘gentler’ way to bring technology to older people.

Smarter safety and security

We all like to feel safe and secure in our homes. Care homes are no different – but they have a tricky balancing act to consider in this regard. On the one hand, care homes look after vulnerable people and have a duty to protect them from risks – but on the other hand, they must ensure their security measures do not encroach on residents’ lives.

Clearly, technology has an essential role in this respect. CCTV and access control systems can now connect wirelessly to IT systems – making it easy to change security settings in certain areas, and view live reports of staff, residents’ and visitors’ movements. Additionally, RFID, swipe cards or biometric systems can be used to ensure the right access for the right people. They can work as clocking-in systems, too, which is valuable for tracking and planning employees’ work patterns.

From the perspective of individual residents’ safety, one innovation that we’ve seen is the GPS watch from CareLine Care. Used by our care home client, it has proved to be especially valuable for residents at risk of falls or wandering too far from the home boundary.

It features a GPS-based alarm, which can be programmed to alert carers if the wearer travels beyond the care home perimeter. It also has an accelerometer that can detect if the wearer has fallen over, again automatically alerting care staff so they can respond promptly.

For both scenarios, the watch offers an advantage over more traditional protective measures. It means residents can enjoy the outdoors with a greater degree of independence – and do not even need to think about reaching for an alarm in the distressing moments after having a fall.

Another, less obvious, aspect of security in care homes is that of cyber protection. Care providers handle, store and manage sensitive resident records. And consequently, they must be compliant with the UK GDPR, and must protect themselves from cyber attacks.

Care homes in the post-Covid world

No blog right now would be complete without a mention of the pandemic. But we’re conscious that nothing we can say can do justice to the amazing way the care sector has responded to events of the last 12 months.

As a technology company, we’ve seen the emergence of two contrasting trends within care sector technology and innovation during this time – and both are entirely understandable.

The first approach has seen technology projects put on the back burner. Given that time, resources and budgets have been stretched by everything from staff self-isolating to extra cleaning, it makes complete sense that things like IT upgrades have taken the back seat.

The second approach has seen some care homes divert their technology plans towards innovations that can help during the pandemic. For example, one of our care home clients installed special visiting ‘pods’ so family members could see residents in a safe way.

Sadly, good work like this never makes headlines quite like the rare occasions when things go wrong. But there are impressive and moving stories everywhere. Our experience is that, overnight, care homes became extraordinarily self-sufficient, sourcing their own PPE, taking brave steps to protect residents in the face of ever-growing challenges.

One article we read recounts the experience of a care home nurse working through the pandemic. She said of her colleagues:

“What teams they were and are to this day; professional, uncomplaining, and immensely hardworking, keeping the home clean, residents well-fed and cared for in the best way possible.”

People first, technology second

There is one common theme to all the technology described here: underpinning all of it is high-speed, reliable and secure internet connectivity. This is where we can help – but it’s about more than the technology products and services. Here are some unique reasons why you might choose us:

  • We put people first, before technology – as reflected in our slogan, ‘Uniting technology, inspiring people.’ For us, that means technology should serve people, not the other way round. We believe this approach makes a good fit for person-centred care.
  • We work with more than 20 care home organisations of different sizes.
  • For a London-based care home group of eight affiliated homes, we’ve provided a full set of IT services including secure Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery service to protect their data and IT applications – a real comfort over the last year, when so much uncertainty has existed elsewhere.
  • In north east Lincolnshire, we work closely with a provider of community health and care services. For this organisation of more than 800 staff, we’ve provided a fully flexible telephony solution, which has enabled them to react quickly to changing circumstances.
  • In the case of the care home described in this blog, we have helped them simplify their IT support, upgrade their internet line and their wifi to support the great person-centred technology they’ve implemented in their home.
  • We are also HSCN (Health and Social Care Network) Stage 2 compliant. This means we are approved by NHS Digital to provide HSCN connectivity services to health and social care organisations. In fact, we’re one of only 20 in the marketplace to reach this stage – and we were one of the first to receive this accreditation.
  • We have a long history of working with health and social care organisations. One example of this is our work in Kent, where we provide high-speed connectivity to more than 400 hospitals, GP surgeries and hospices through the HSCN.
  • With HSCN, we work with over 60 health organisations, including Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust and Great Ormond Hospital – you can read the case study here.
  • We don’t have pushy sales agendas and prefer to spend time at the outset getting to know you and your needs. Our founder, Ian Fishwick, has driven our year-on-year growth for more than 30 years by focusing on customer loyalty. And loyalty is never achieved by dazzling clients with hyped-up products for the sake of a sales target. Ian shares some valuable insights into our ageing society in this video.

One last point

As mentioned above, we are not affiliated with any of the companies listed in this blog. But we have worked with the care home sector to help them make the most of these services. And we are sure that they could help other care homes, too – so we hope you found this blog valuable.

  • Written by Tim Scott

Tim is AdEPT’s Chief Commercial Officer. He leads our work with partners and suppliers, and develops our products and services. In his personal life, he is closely involved in a local children’s football team and a local care home.

Written by Tim Scott

Chief Commercial Officer at AdEPT