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Empathy – download the app now!

By Caring Times editor GEOFF HODGSON

A Radio 4 comedian recently used the phrase “two thousand apps but still no bottle-opener” wonderfully demonstrating the limitations of information technology.

Without doubt, IT is very useful and often time-saving (although I can think of many instances where it is time-wasting) and I still have a sense of wonderment every time I use my iphone for something other than making a telephone call.

But social care (healthcare too) is about a lot more than information and I worry that IT is being touted by some as a means to provide better care at less cost, reducing the number of staff that need to be employed. Over reliance on IT, it may be argued, also adds another layer of potential error and may result in a dilution of personal accountability.

Good care, in terms of help with such fundamentals as companionship, personal hygiene, nutrition, hydration, elimination and mobility, was being provided long before we became obsessed with little screens and data entry skills.

I see IT as little more than a useful adjunct to care. Apart from the physical and clinical aspects, so much of care is about companionship, about being a friend, and I believe these are what really matters when it comes to enriching people’s lives and attenuating the anxieties and loneliness that often attend an elderly person’s latter days.

I doubt the the ability of robotic furry seals and the like to emulate the sincere engagement and empathetic responses of a dedicated human carer. And we need more of them, not fewer.

  • The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.

3 Replies to “Empathy – download the app now!”

  1. Whilst undoubtedly (and inevitably post any innovation birth) there are many apps that are non-productive and yes there has been too much emphasis on the power of clinical data to reduce costs and improve wellbeing, still we argue that tech has a critical role to play in improving carer and family delivered person centred care. Tech informs the carer about the person, records whether they engaged with an activity, provides content to improve that engagement, etc. In the same way that TV, radio and phones have improved our ability to engage on an informed basis, so tech gives carers the tools they need to engage in a more person centric manner. The care industry is one of the last sectors to overcome this adoption inertia. And the sooner it does properly, the sooner the benefits in wellbeing and cost reduction will begin to be seen.

  2. Geoff, Dr Phil Whitaker touched on this subject in his column in last week’s New Statesman (his perspective that of a GP). He concluded: “Will 2019 see artificial intelligence beginning to replace doctors? No doubt spurred by the Labrador-like enthusiasm of Matt Hancock … the app developers will be putting in a determined effort. But some time between now and 2090, I suspect it will gradually dawn on people quite how hard it would be to replicate what a doctor does. Then the NHS might start investing properly in its human resources again.”

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  3. Agreed- I am currently in Sweden where I visit a particular care home specialising in people living with dementia, their families and the staff supporting them – we know that staff who are given time to build relationships with residents and their families have greater job satisfaction as a result .AI needs to be only used to free staff to provide the human factor, such as spending time with residents in a broader range of meaningful activities. These might include encouraging mobility such as in personalised walks and talks, taking residents outside and engaging them with nature and things they enjoy- staff time should never be reduced to a reductionist institutionalised model of care – we’ve been down that road and know how quickly it induces depersonalisation and toxic cultures that are anything than person centred – this is where all people are treated the same. The essence of empathetic communication skills are however, not a given, they need to be taught and nurtured in a well led learning care setting where leaders encourage staff to implement their communication and engagement skills . Therefore AI can be used to take us forwards and not back into the dark ages .

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