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What does the technological future of care homes look like?

7 July, 2020

By Silas Campbell, marketing manager at Blueleaf

The care sector is in a time of technological change, and while there is a degree of uncertainty as to what the future holds, the opportunities are also exciting.

During 2019, there were approximately 11.6 million people aged 65+ in the UK. This figure is set to rise by 2.4 million over the next ten years. The fact is people are living longer and, in time, this will put a strain on the care sector.

Skills for Care reported that every year, 130,000 additional workers are required, but this will increase to 650,000 each year by 2035, due to the aging population.

It begs the question; what can be done to alleviate that pressure? Technology has a major part to play in that. It has enhanced at an incredible rate, with systems and processes becoming increasingly digitised and automated.

Right now, however, times are hard and currently only some care homes take advantage of the technology already on offer. There is still a huge way to go to achieve mass implementation.

Roy Edwards, head of marketing at Blueleaf, said: “I’m personally excited to see how the role of the robot in care homes evolves. At the minute, they are faced with much trepidation, but as we’ve discovered through extensive research, there are many benefits they can bring.”

The state of play today

There’s no doubt that great strides have been taken in recent years to get the industry up to speed.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is slowly being filtered across the UK, allowing for the monitoring of patients to predict the need for early intervention. Acoustic Monitoring is arguably the greatest breakthrough on this point. More than ever before, caregivers are one step ahead when a patient is in danger of falling and this type of technology is used by over 250,000 care receivers in 752 care institutions worldwide.

Certainly, over time, this will allow for an extended ecosystem that will make the delivery of 24/7 care a reality rather than a pipedream.

Speaking on the growing role of AI, Stephen Wilson, director of Novacare, said: “There’s no doubt that artificial intelligence and robotics are going to shape the future of care. In fact, by 2023 it’ll be a technology that’s commonly used throughout the sector in the UK.”

Beyond AI, smart home technology integration has become more prevalent in recent years – alleviating stress from caregivers. With the help of a home hub, care homes are in a position to control smart lighting and thermostats.

Social technology has also been integrated. Smartphones and tablets are a lifeline for residents to keep in touch with loved ones – especially so during the COVID-19 crisis – while it also acts as a form of entertainment.

They are also benefiting employees, who are able to use mHealth apps to monitor residents’ health and medical records. Even more significant, however, are the vastly improving care home management and eMAR software solutions. Combined, the assessment and evidencing of care via apps and this type of software means that medical assessments are more accurate and efficient.

Similar to the smartphones, care homes are finding smartwatches particularly beneficial for dementia residents, who may have become disoriented and wandered off.

Like fitness trackers, vital stats such as heartbeat can be regularly monitored by employees, without having to invest in costly additional equipment. They also bring benefits for the wearer – if they get lost, their smartwatch can safely guide them back to their home address, and they can also make emergency calls.

But what does the future look like?

As was acknowledged at the beginning of this article, the care sector has upped its game in the implementation of technology in recent years, but there is still a way to go.

Robotics, AI, 5G and machine learning technology are expected to play a large role in enhancing and transforming care homes in the future. Technology is expected to benefit not just residents by combating issues such as loneliness, but care professionals as well.

Streamlining and automating processes, technology will assist with daily core tasks and reduce workloads to allow carers to devote more time to residents to provide compassionate care.

But what does that look like? In our opinion, autonomous.

1)  Robots

Robots are in the very early stages of being introduced in care homes across the world and it’s future possibilities are especially exciting.

While living in a care home can help to reduce feelings of complete isolation, loneliness increases mortality rates by 26%, it’s predicted that in the future, robots will combat this, by offering companionship.

CARESSES – a Japanese government and EU funded pilot project – continuously assess how robots can assist the elderly in care homes. As part of a trial, they introduced Pepper the robot as an assistant at an Advinia care home.

Manufactured by SoftBank Robotics, Pepper greeted residents, and by using a combination of voice, images, and video, enabled residents to access messages from loved ones, remind them to take their medication, and play their favourite songs.

Dr. Sanjeev Konoria, chairman of Advinia Health Care, said: “Robots will not replace care workers… but such innovation could streamline processes… to improve care delivery and promote independent living and quality of life.”

2)   Robopets

Robopets are a recent introduction in care homes and are set to increase in popularity over the years.

Morris Care has introduced a robotic seal pup to six of its care homes to help spark reminiscence of past pets. Known as Paro, the robopet has helped to reduce stress and anxiety amongst residents, whilst promoting social interaction, and improving mood and speech.

Paro has the combination of built-in sensors and artificial intelligence that is currently seen in care homes; to enable it to ‘learn’ and respond to the name that residents give it. Much like a real animal, robopet Paro reacts to being stroked by turning towards the person holding it, opening its eyes, and squeaking.

3)   Robotic suits    

Robotic suits are one trend predicted to be prevalent in care homes of the future; specifically helping residents who suffer from arthritis, to stand and walk more comfortably.

Residents with gait disorders can use exoskeleton technologies to improve their motor function and increase their independence and there is a general feeling within the industry that exoskeletons may replace wheelchairs and hoists in the future.

The University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with the design agency IUVO and the Shadow Robot Company, has developed two exoskeletons, one that provides support at the pelvis the other at the ankle.

The novel control systems being developed use an optimisation based framework to modulate and provide the correct magnitude and timing of physical assistance that is appropriate for both the task and the individual user.

As this development continues, it is potentially going to be significant to the future of mobility, and not just in the care sector.

4)  Automated triage technology

This type of technology is slowly being introduced into the healthcare industry.

The Belgian company, BeWell, has released a self-service kiosk called WellPoint. Patients entering hospitals or clinics are able to have their blood pressure, weight, and pulse oximetry tested.

What would typically take a nurse seven minutes to complete, in addition to a few extra minutes entering the information onto the IT system; takes WellPoint approximately three minutes, with medical records instantly updated.

The NHS is using automated triage technology in the assessment and treatment stages, which is regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

With new clinical triage devices, apps, and algorithms being introduced all the time, it will be exciting to see what these are capable of in care homes.

5)   Software management systems

Whilst software management systems are a feature of current care homes, it’s predicted the usage of them will continue to grow in the future.

However, this technology solution must be implemented carefully, to ensure that patient data remains private and any technological and organisational challenges are resolved.

A European Commission study warned that electronic health record systems can only yield potential benefits if they’re correctly utilised; and the looming threat of cybersecurity issues shouldn’t be ignored.

The safe practice and better use of data and technology undoubtedly have the power to improve health by transforming and enhancing the quality alongside reducing the cost of health and care services.

In addition to patients and citizens having more control over their health and wellbeing, empower carers, reduce the administrative burden for care professionals, and support the development of new medicines and treatments.

Are there any drawbacks to an increased involvement of robots?

While the future possibilities robots can provide in care homes are extremely exciting, they are still tackling the stigmas attached; with one fear being robots will “steal” jobs.

But as Dr. Papadopolous of the University of Bedfordshire – a partner of CARESSES robotics in care project – said at the Future of Care Conference in March 2019: “This is about assisting and complementing care as opposed to replacing jobs.”

While a PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) report found that robots are predicted to have replaced 30% of jobs currently undertaken by people in the UK by 2030, it’s estimated that this percentage is just 0.35% for employees in health and social care.

Issac Theophilos, author of How to Get Outstanding: An Ultimate Guide for Care Homes commented on the prediction of adopting robotics and other technological advancements within the care industry.

He said: “The ability of the machines to learn is multiple times better than humans. The power of machine learning can be used to provide voice support to help people with simple tasks such as calling for help, turning off the lights, adjusting the room temperature, and so on.

“Predicting care outcomes using the data could be improved in social care. AI could be a model to disrupt overreliance on the people-based system. I do not think machines could replace people in the front line care. However, machines could supplement to support the front line care staff. The shortage of frontline staff will remain a problem.”

The statistics show care workers do not trust robots

The second major concern with robotics in care homes is a general lack of trust.

The European Commission conducted a survey, which discovered that while 68% of respondents thought robots were beneficial in helping people carry out their jobs; only 26% felt comfortable with the idea of having a robot companion when they got older.

Similarly, a survey by UK recruitment specialist Randstad found that 83% of people opposed the use of robots in care homes.

However, with Japan’s positive stats of robots being deployed in care homes, there’s hope that in the future, the use of robots in care homes will be viewed much more positively.

The benefits they can bring are clear. Most notably, with robots able to carry out administrative tasks, employees can spend more time providing much-needed compassionate care.

Not only that, but they can also help with residents’ health and wellbeing – from the stress reduction of robopets to the measurement of resident vitals via wearable technology.

In conclusion

It’s clear to see that the care sector has adopted the use of current technology, such as smart home systems, patient monitoring equipment, artificial intelligence, and software solutions, in a bid to become more efficient.

However, with increasing pressure on the sector, due to more people set to enter care homes – whether that’s down to the aging population, or people opting to enter at a younger age as a lifestyle choice – care homes across the country must continue to adapt to new technologies that come through.

Robotics is being approached with equal measures of excitement and trepidation. However, their ability to free up carer time by taking on large volumes of administrative work, and subsequent ability to improve the wellbeing of residents shouldn’t be ignored – especially with the demand for carers due to rise over the next few years.

One thing is for certain: with many issues present in the sector, the ability to implement new technology will be paramount to the success of care homes across the country.

Robotics is being approached with equal measures of excitement and trepidation. However, their ability to free up carer time by taking on large volumes of administrative work, and subsequent ability to improve the wellbeing of residents shouldn’t be ignored – especially with the demand for carers due to rise over the next few years.

With many issues present in the sector, the ability to implement new technology will be paramount to the success of care homes across the country. For more information on this topic, download Blueleaf’s ebook: The Future of Care Homes.

 

About Blueleaf…

Blueleaf is a strategic expert; a group of caring people in the business of caring. Their mission is to help give humans the best possible care in an evolving world. They achieve this through transformative innovation and expertise, teamed with the insights that enable people to make a business successful. By building meaningful, in-depth relationships, Blueleaf helps to sustain and support the care system in the best way possible. Compassionate and ethical, Blueleaf always does the right thing – not because it’s what their clients want, but because their values run deep in their DNA. They are committed to doing the right things and shaping the industry for the better.

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