Can technology open the door to joined up health and social care?
Technology has a pivotal role to play in delivering successful health and social care integration, says Mark Raeburn, managing director of Capita One
When you bring seven local authority directors together to discuss the challenges and opportunities of delivering joined-up health and social care, the conversations shine a bright light on the key issues the sector faces in the years ahead.
With the opportunity to sit around a table together, the senior leaders responsible for adult social care had the chance to share their thoughts and what was encouraging was that, despite the challenges, minds are very much focussed on mapping out the journey towards integrated health and social care.
In a climate of increased demand, this could be the most effective way for local authorities to ensure people get the right support, at the right time, to live longer, stay healthier and maintain their independence.
But one of the primary concerns voiced by some attendees at the event was how you get the different systems used by the health and social care sectors to talk to each other in a way that supports information sharing and helps ensure the often complex and changing needs of vulnerable individuals and their families are met.
“The system is critically important,” said Grainne Siggins, director of adult social services at the London Borough of Newham. “There’s plenty of unexplored potential in technology, but there are plenty of hurdles to overcome first. Not least getting data sharing right.”
The discussions, which took place at a roundtable event hosted jointly by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and Capita One, underlined the need for IT to be easy to access and use by the people involved.
And as David Pearson, director of adult social services at Nottinghamshire County Council pointed out, “No matter how these systems are brought together, it is important that, for social workers and health professionals, it feels as if it is one integrated system rather than multiple systems.”
The backdrop to this is that increasingly advanced IT solutions are already emerging that simplify data sharing by enabling health and social care professionals with the appropriate authorisation to see the same information relating to those they are in contact with – an elderly person with dementia, for example – in real time.
This immediacy of information is the backbone of successful multi-agency working, making it possible for more informed decisions to be made to tackle the wide-ranging difficulties faced by the most vulnerable in society.
But is there more technology could be delivering for citizens in a new world of integrated health and social care?
Those at the helm of social care saw the role of technology as essential to delivering the patient-centred, holistic approach to care that is just over the horizon.
“Where it’s appropriate, we want everybody to get the help they need to be able to manage their health needs and care conditions,” David Pearson emphasised. “It’s this idea of having technology that supports those individuals, is joined up across health and social care, and supported by a clinical network that makes this possible.”
We could see significant growth in the use of assistive technology, such as devices that allow the wellbeing of patients to be monitored remotely or enable them to make instant contact with the appropriate services in an emergency. Supporting people who are able to remain in their own homes in this way could ease the weight of demand on both health and social services in the future.
With the technology that will provide the foundations for more integrated working between health and social care already in existence, are there additional challenges that need to be overcome to bring people together?
The topic of health and social care integration was explored in a recent survey* of local authority leaders and according to the findings, 65% of respondents suggested that the greatest challenge was the cultural shift for the people involved, as opposed to the 35% who considered bringing systems together to be the greatest challenge.
As these figures indicate, professionals from both sides of the health and social care divide will need to adapt to a new way of working, but some local authorities are already putting measures in place to forge new associations between services and strengthen existing links.
At the roundtable discussions, cementing lasting relationships between health and social care was seen as key to success.
“We’ve specifically gone into locations that match the location of GPs. We’ve opened a dialogue between services because we have a locality team that’s fully integrated health and social care services under one line management,” said John Powell, director of adult social services for the London Borough of Redbridge. “GPs, district nurses and social workers are all working together, bumping into one another.”
But to facilitate this new, more collaborative approach, local authorities wanted to see more emphasis placed on an IT environment that supports health and social care practitioners in working side-by-side, providing the treatment, care and support vulnerable individuals and families need.
However, this raised questions around whether the existing identities and responsibilities of health and social care might become increasingly blurred in the future.
Roles and responsibilities
“The strengths and skills that you have if you mix up health and social care are tremendous if we get it right.”, said Liz Bruce, director of adult social services for the London Tri-borough council, who underlined the importance of retaining the distinct culture of the two services and warned against losing this in the rush to integrate.
David Pearson agreed. “You want the different professions complementing each other rather than diluting the differences. If you go into a marriage you have to know who you are.”
While striking the right balance between integration and the preservation of identity threw up some challenges, the heads of social care were broadly confident they could be overcome.
A positive impact
As the discussions underline, the role of technology in health and social care extends beyond simply joining up systems.
Practitioners need technology that will cross cultural boundaries and free them to work in new, more collaborative ways to, ultimately, improve the quality of people’s lives.
To read the full local authority interviews, visit www.capita-one.co.uk/OneVision
*The survey was carried out by Capita One at the National Adult and Children’s Services Conference in November 2016. 72 local authority senior leaders responded.
Mark Raeburn is managing director of Capita One