By Daniel Casson, Adviser on Digital Transformation at Care England
A fascinating report has just been released by Future Care Capital (FCC) and Ipsos MORI on the use of social media analysis by frontline workers during the first wave of the pandemic (search #CovidConversations). It reveals their challenges and concerns and set me thinking about how communications have developed over Covid times.
The report analysed over 3.5 million online comments and posts between 1st Feb and 31st June. What they revealed says so much about what care workers and care organisations were going through. Almost one in three posts focussed on the importance of key workers in health and social care; 9% were related to people’s concerns about exposing their family to the virus or being separated from them; and 4% were related to children and schooling.
People expressed the whole gamut of emotions. Uppermost in carers’ minds was anger, fear and mental strain, whilst there were also feelings of hope. The mixture of professional and personal concerns offers an insight into the extent to which these challenges intersect. Annemarie Naylor, FCC’s Director of Policy and Strategy pointed out that the language used was human and did not stray into the heroic or even militaristic voice used by politicians. Here, laid bare, was the daily struggle to balance the personal with the professional, the despair with the optimism, and the reality with the hopes for the future.
Many care organisations have employed tools such as Hospify to keep in touch with clinicians and family. Facebook and Google Nests have been mobilised to keep people up to date. Mutual aid WhatsApp groups such a Care Home Care have been far more effective in spread- ing the messages, sharing the learning and seeking advice, guidance and reassurance in a time when the official media and official announcements have often sowed confusion. This is truly the age of mutual sup- port and people power.
The move by the NHS to equip social care with NHSmail on a mass scale means that social care organisations now have the chance to communicate easily and securely with the statutory authorities in health and local government. This has saved countless hours of wasted phone calls and unanswered emails. In the same package social care organisations have gained access to Microsoft Teams as a tool to help them with internal communications and external conferencing.
There is still work to be done on connecting health and care systems formally, but the opportunity is there, and the current work being done by NHSX and NHS Digital to join up care and health in a joint, mutual conversation is vital. The groundwork put into these organisations before the pandemic is bearing fruit, as we in social care are now start- ing to see the benefit of this joined up, digital connectivity and this joined up way of thinking.
My blogs on the digital transformation always come down to one thing; digital transformation and use of digital tools must create value. These new communication tools and media create immense value for carers (both professional and family & friend carers), for the people being cared for, for organisations and for the health and care system as a whole.
The optimism comes with some caveats. The communication media and strategies which struggle to gain momentum are those which are imposed and not developed either spontaneously by people, or by coproduction with the people using them. This is a call for coproduction and listening to all parties involved.
I am currently part of the Digital Social Care team running the helpline for social care providers on any digital enquiries they have. A message reached us this morning from a parent despairing that she cannot visit their child in a rehab unit and detailing the damage that not being able to visit is doing to both of them. The only crumb of comfort I can offer is that at least there are ways to see each other now over communication channels, but ultimately there is no substitute for touching and feeling, which are the parts social media and communications media cannot reach. It reminded me that our social media and digital communications cannot cover all bases at all times and only gain their true power when combined with real human touch.
The Future Care Capital and Ipsos MORI report is a clear reminder that in communications it is people power which is important. The informal communication modes will grow, and we in social care must become even more skilled in understanding what the messages are telling us. By developing this understanding, we can design an even better care ecosystem: our care, our workspaces and our future must reflect what these social media and communication channels are telling us.
Adviser on digital transformation to Care England – www.careengland.org.uk/digitalblog
Executive of Digital Social Care – www.digitalsocialcare.co.uk