New research reveals the barriers and benefits to technology use experienced by social care providers during Covid-19

New research reveals the barriers and benefits to technology use experienced by social care providers during Covid-19

New research has been published revealing the latest data and information on how social care providers have been using technology during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Impact of Technology in Adult Social Care Provider Services report highlights the benefits and barriers providers in England have been experiencing when it comes to using technology.

Together with the Institute of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University, we undertook an 8-week research project using data from our helpline. Further in-depth interviews were also conducted to better understand the experiences of providers.

The work was commissioned by NHSX, the unit responsible for driving digital transformation of care. While the number of participants is small, the work is helping to identify some of the challenges and barriers that people have experienced, along with the actions and enablers that promote improved digital adoption. This learning will help shape future work across NHSX, ourselves and others.

The research was undertaken between 20 April and 19 June 2020, at the height of the pandemic. During this time our helpline was contacted by 176 people, the majority (55%) were from residential care, with 23% from homecare and the rest from other services such as commissioning organisations, community care and supported living.

The use of technology for social care providers has changed rapidly since the Covid-19 pandemic. Information governance compliance requirements have been temporarily relaxed and a new quick process to give care providers free access to NHSmail and Microsoft Teams has been set up. Free digital tools have also been made available and all care homes have been asked to start using the Capacity Tracker as a priority.

Our findings suggest that:

  • access to NHSmail improves providers’ communication with NHS organisations and therefore supports better coordination of care around the person’s needs
  • use of NHSmail by care home providers and digital rostering and visit logging systems by homecare providers is viewed as reducing administrative effort
  • video conferencing is seen as a significant benefit, if not a necessity, by providers during the pandemic with the three main drivers being GPs requiring this for virtual consultations, contact between clients and family, and internal communication between dispersed staff
  • while over 70% of care home providers in some regions have registered with NHSmail, only a maximum of two thirds were using their accounts
  • providers would welcome more support in navigating and selecting the best digital options for care
  • the use of digital tools such as remote monitoring and care management is inconsistent across the sector with some providers using a range of digital tools and others who are still very paper-based.
  • the Capacity Tracker is being used by nearly all care homes but there is a need to help providers to identify and unlock the benefit to them.

Confidence with digital skills, lack of strategic technical guidance, data protection and cyber security were all identified by providers as barriers to their uptake of technology.

The scope of this report is influenced by the context and sampling methodology – given the measures by NHS England and CQC to accelerate the adoption of NHSmail and Capacity Tracker, these systems feature heavily as, due to the nature of response to the pandemic, they were, during this study, top of mind for many providers. As such, electronic care planning and associated systems, despite being key components of effective digital transformation, were not the focus of this report.

Fiona Richardson, Assistant Director of the Institute of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University, said: “At this extremely stressful time on the frontline of coronavirus care, we want to help care service providers who are working with new technology, perhaps for the first time.

“The care sector needs support to deliver its essential work and this research could be an important driver in enabling us to harness all of the power that technology and digital innovations offer us.”

Vic Rayner, Executive Director of National Care Forum and Board Member of Digital Social Care, said: “Care providers have rapidly adopted new technologies to adapt ways of working during this difficult period. This research shows the many benefits technology can offer to staff and the people they support. It is vital that we learn from the innovative approaches developed as part of the Covid-19 response.”

James Palmer, Programme Head for Social Care at NHS Digital, said: “Supporting care service providers to become digitally mature has always been important: during the pandemic, it has become essential.  I welcome the report and its recommendations, which will be key in helping the sector to reap the benefits of digital tools, so that they can continue providing first-class care to the most vulnerable in our communities.”

The report contains a number of recommendations to ensure the sector’s use of technology grows and details how providers can be supported.

You can read the full report here. For more information about what digital tools might be useful to you during the pandemic, please visit our Covid-19 pages.

If you’re a provider and would like support to use technology or have questions to ask, our helpline is open between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday by calling 0208 133 3430 or by email on [email protected]

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