By Nick Weston, CCO, Lilli (www.intelligentlilli.com)
It is no secret that the UK care sector is in crisis thanks to an age- ing population, government budget squeezes and the impact of Brexit on recruitment. Added to this are longer-term impacts of the pandemic, including the unknown effects of further viral mutations and the requirements of the estimated 1.1 million people with long Covid symptoms.
Although the current government says it will come up with a reform plan this year, successive investigations into funding have failed to deliver anything tangible. Yet, irrespective of what comes out from Whitehall, carrying on with current practices is unlikely to give us a care sector fit for the future. The industry needs an injection of innovation so it can use data and digital technology to pro- vide more proactive, preventive care with better outcomes for patients and more efficient use of resources.
Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are ready and waiting to transform the care sector. Many of us already use these technologies every day through smart speakers and phones. Employing them to help with care will make for better-informed decisions about patient needs, not to replace the human skills but to complement them and focus resources where they are most needed.
In practical terms, AI and ML solutions will use data to improve the quality of life for elderly people or those with chronic conditions who want to maintain a degree of independence.
An ML solution, for example, uses the masses of data from wearable lifestyle monitoring devices and discreet sensors in people’s homes to quickly establish what is their normal behaviour. Against this benchmark it spots signs and trends indicating they might be developing a problem – anything from a change in heart rate, failure to move around, increased toilet use or fewer hot drinks.
The technology will notice the difference in real time and alert carers or clinicians who can investigate and potentially intervene. This reduces the likelihood of more complex and costly treatment or admission to hospital.
Organisations can tailor provision to the individual, creating a “flightpath” with thresholds appropriate to their condition. The accuracy of the data and the insights reduces unnecessary call-outs and visits while providing reliable information for resource allocation. Whereas patients may be unable or unwilling to discuss symptoms of a new problem, the insights from the data provide care-givers, clinicians and managers with firm evidence they might never obtain otherwise.
Systems such as this are already undergoing trials within the NHS and local authorities where they are shrinking care costs, through reduced visits by carers and lower rates of hospital admission. Lilli’s ML behavioural analytics solution in Dorset, currently running as a pilot, is set to save in the region of £4,000 per person annually through reduced visiting, for example.
One important aspect of these more innovative, patient-centred solutions is greater acceptance. ML-based behavioural solutions work with fashionable lifestyle devices and unobtrusive sensors which are a world away from the sort of boxy, medical hardware that marks clients out as people who need help. Of course, that still leaves the question of consent to use the data, but that should not be too hard, given that so many people already share data from their Fitbit-style devices or personal assistants. Organisations (and relatives) will nevertheless need to explain the full benefits, including clear the gains in independent living.
Part of this consent will be about sharing data with other health organisations to optimise care and to remove the divisions between health and social care systems to improve outcomes and efficiency. This has become a priority within government and makes sense. It is no accident that the insights modern solutions create are easy to understand for carers and clinicians and work across different IT systems.
The future of care in the UK is certain to be heavily data-driven, resulting in far better outcomes than reliance on hardware-based, reactive alarm systems that generate costly and time-wasting false alerts. Regardless of funding reform, it is time for the care sector to explore advances in technology so they can provide better results and improved lives for their clients and patients.