Reimagining the nursing home

Published Friday, October 7, 2016 5:30 PM by Gordon Wilson, Chief Executive Officer, Advanced

Reimagining the future of residential care 

Imagine the scene: in the communal room of an old-people’s home, a young man is helping an elderly resident Skype his grandchildren, while in another a girl in her 20s is showing an older woman how to navigate an iPad. But forget your preconceptions: they aren’t here visiting their grandparents, and neither are they employees. You may have read in the Sunday Times; it’s a new system in place at the Humanitas care home in the Netherlands where students can live for free if they agree to spend at least 30 hours per month socialising with the older residents; time which is often spent chatting, cooking, or helping them to get to grips with new technologies.

Gea Sijpkes, director of the Humanitas care home, came up with the innovative idea a few years ago. Many care homes in the Netherlands are left with empty rooms, while students often struggle to find somewhere to live - it seemed a win-win situation: students receive free accommodation, making their time at university more affordable, while the residents enjoy the energy the youngsters bring.

It might be an unusual approach, but with the UN forecasting that more than 20 per cent of the world’s population will be over the age of 60 by the year 2050, such initiatives could become the way forward. According to the International Association of Homes and Services for the Ageing, a similar programme, which began in Barcelona in 1996, has already been repeated in over 20 cities throughout Spain, and is now being launched in France and America. However, despite struggling to cope with the demands of a rapidly ageing population with increasingly complex needs, the UK has yet to get on board.

And this isn’t the only way that the UK is lagging behind; technology is another area. While many care home providers are starting to embrace the way that technology can enrich residents’ lives by introducing WiFi and hosting computer classes to help residents to communicate with their relatives, there is still a long way to go before it is fully utilised, allowing establishments to re-think the way they are run.

The reality is that while technology has become increasingly ubiquitous in lots of sectors, many health and social care organisations still rely on time intensive, even traditional paper-based ways, of operating care homes – from recording patient data to monitoring care provision. According to a recent survey, care homes in the UK are 15 years behind those in Canada and the US in adopting technology to drive efficiencies and automation of manual tasks, helping free up time spent on nursing to positively impact patient care. Consequently, while most people go into nursing and care work to help people, the reality is much of the day is spent form filling.

However, there are steps in the right direction. Technology-Enabled Care (TEC), which uses technology to enhance care by capturing and sharing information in new ways, is leading to exciting new opportunities for care homes to improve both resident well-being and business efficiency. We cover a few new areas where technology is freeing up people to re-imagine how they can work – more effectively, efficiently, whilst enhancing their care:

Patient care

With a large proportion of patients with dementia, one residential care home has made changes to make care more person-centred, by collecting information about each resident’s life history. With the amount of data staff were recording, managing and sharing greatly increasing, the home looked for smart solutions in which that information can easily be captured without care staff being diverted from providing hands-on care. As a result, a mobile app, Keepsake, was created to allow care workers and nurses to enter patient notes digitally. The app uses language recognition to categorise the tone as positive or negative and prompt the staff member about what their next steps should be. The system therefore not only acts as a replacement for notes on paper, but as a way of coordinating with, and re-evaluating the resident’s care plan.

Advances in assistive technology include people accessing health appointments and medical consultations online, through computers or tablets, without having to leave their care home. The Internet of Things (IoT) can also have an impact; ambient monitoring technology can send alerts – to remind residents in sheltered housing to turn off the oven; to carers in the event of a fall by residents; even monitor if someone has taken their medication or remind them to take it using a speech prompt on a mobile device from a familiar voice.

IoT extending to nutrition….

The required recording of patient data is a time-consuming task, with records having to be kept on everything from the resident’s nutrition, to the activities they do each day. Health HHealth Call, a new digital undernutrition service for care homes, enables undernourished residents to be closely monitored every one to two weeks by care home staff, who input the patient’s weight, appetite, and compliance to oral nutritional supplements onto its secure online portal. If any of the patient’s data falls outside of their pre-set personal parameters, a member of the dietetic team is alerted and will contact the care home to provide dietary advice. This automated system empowers the care home staff to take a more proactive approach to monitoring their increasing number of vulnerable residents and has resulted in cost savings.

Incident reporting

If accidents happen, or anything unusual occurs, it is imperative that managers are quickly alerted so that effective action can be taken promptly. Handheld digital units can flag up in real-time when problems occur, and guide staff to ensure that they follow procedures to maximise safety. At the same time, managers have immediate visibility of the issues, giving them the opportunity to take control before situations can escalate. What’s more, the technology also provides a full audit trail that can be shared with doctors and nurses to help with care in the case of medical emergencies.

Health and safety

Health and safety has become a top priority within care homes, from a compliance perspective as well as ensuring care quality procedures are met and recorded. For example, digitising food safety processes not only protects residents from the consequences of food hygiene breaches, but also boosts staff productivity as staff can record activities at the touch of a button. If checks are missed, managers can be alerted, and mistakes corrected. Automating fridge and freezer temperature monitoring, using wireless sensors which send alerts when readings rise or fall beyond pre-set zones, is another way to free up staff time and streamline processes, whilst ensuring quality of care.

With the population now living longer, care homes are an increasingly vital part of how the country looks after its elderly. Certainly at a time of rising costs, by harnessing technology to increase efficiency and safeguard resident safety, care homes have the opportunity to adapt, re-thinking how to best care for the ever changing needs of the UK's ageing population. Regardless of whether they choose to go down Humanitas’ innovative new student route or not, we’re excited at the possibilities that technology can deliver to support the best care provision possible.

Gordon Wilson, Chief Executive Officer, Advanced