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The role of assistive technology in a crisis

by Tracy Williams

Gavin Bashar, UK Managing Director of Tunstall Healthcare, discussing why we need to invest in assistive technology, the role it plays in supporting our services through a pandemic and how it can enable us to better prepare for future crises.

An ageing population and funding challenges have placed services such as the NHS, housing providers and social care systems under increasing pressure. Staffing shortages, lack of funding and inefficiencies have all led to our services finding it increasingly difficult to successfully provide the required care.

The COVID-19 emergency has only exacerbated this further, and professionals in the sector have reached the point where caring for vulnerable people has become extremely difficult, and tough decisions have to be made.

We must safeguard our services for future generations, and to avoid the devastating effects seen during COVID-19 we must create more resilience within the system. Services need to understand the benefits of technology and must investigate how we can meet surges in demand and protect the population.

Why should we invest?

Smart solutions and assistive technology help to protect the safety of individuals, especially those who are particularly frail or vulnerable, providing 24 hour reassurance. This helps to improve quality of life, and health and wellbeing, whilst also enabling the provision of efficient high quality care, even during a pandemic.

Technology has a key role to play in increasing the capacity of our health and social care services, and enabling flexibility in the way care is delivered. This will make care more proactive and predictive, and help to address future challenges. Technology is an enabler, and as more of our population is affected by COVID-19, it allows daily monitoring to be delivered more effectively so that vulnerable people can live independently and be kept out of hospitals, but with support to reduce the effects of social isolation.

Telecare systems can be tailored to the needs of every user, helping to automatically monitor risks inside the home, such as falls or fires, and giving vulnerable people the ability to call for help in case of an emergency, 24 hours a day, from a range of stakeholders. Operators can also make proactive calls to service users, checking on their wellbeing, offering advice and signposting to other services.

Assistive technology enables sophisticated remote monitoring and proactive care planning, ensuring care is provided when it is needed most. Discreet monitoring of activity in the home over time such as how often the kitchen and bathroom are being used can detect any deterioration in wellbeing at an early stage and enable interventions which can reduce or delay the need for more complex care. Likewise, remote monitoring of vital signs and symptoms can give an early indication of deteriorating health, and clinicians can view data via an online portal to identify patients most in need of intervention.

Although health and social care professionals are focussed on treating COVID-19 patients and limiting the spread of the virus, there are many vulnerable adults who have needs which must still be met. Remote health monitoring, telecare systems and proactive wellbeing calls all enable users and key stakeholders to manage chronic illnesses and live independently and safely, even if they have recently been discharged from hospital.

How does technology support our services?

The current public health crisis, which many would consider the worst for a generation, is placing unprecedented pressures on our health, housing and social care services. Technology can support us in addressing the many of the challenges presented by the current emergency, and offer effective resolutions.

Most health and particularly social care systems, have often been established with reaction rather than prevention in mind. It is crucial that there is a shift in this behaviour to enable greater input into development and innovation, and to ensure users are safe and can remain independent, especially during a time of crisis.

Technology solutions can greatly reduce the pressure on the NHS by enabling social care and housing providers to support people effectively. They can prevent admission to hospital by reducing the impact of self-isolation and mitigating the adverse effects of incidents such as falls, by enabling a rapid response. Systems can also be deployed as part of a package of care to enable people to be safely discharged from hospital more quickly, freeing up vital hospital beds. These solutions also allow vulnerable people with long term conditions to manage their health effectively at home, even during a pandemic where services are stretched. This enables our services to focus on COVID-19 patients while having the peace of mind that everyone is receiving the care and support they need to continue living safely and independently.

How can we use technology to prepare for future crises?

Technology can not only help to address some of the immediate challenges presented by the current emergency, but can also provide a robust platform for future health and care delivery, connecting people to enable more proactive and preventative care and ensuring a resilient network is already in place should we ever face such a crisis again.

Progress in technology will benefit a huge number of people however, health, housing and social care providers must become more progressive and embrace available opportunities. As we live longer, demands on public services will increase and the impact of the changing health and care landscape needs to be considered. Industry leaders must continue exploring how they can improve the support they deliver and the ways in which technology enabled care can help people to live well, later in life.

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