Professional Comment

How Digital Technology During COVID-19 Can Help Care Homes Bolster Residents’ Safety & Protection

By Chris Barker, CEO, Spirit Health Group

COVID-19 has – for the vast majority of us – been the most disruptive event of our collective lives. And for those most vulnerable, and their amilies, probably the most troubling.

While so far we have seen great examples of digital technologies being used to provide support, comfort, safety and protection, digital health is now being called upon to take clinical care beyond what has been previ- ously achieved.

With care homes across the UK understandably try- ing to do everything they can to shield their residents – including keeping carers on the care home site, reduc- ing contacts and avoiding external visitors from coming in that might put the frail elderly at risk – the one thing they can’t afford to do is to compromise access to healthcare professionals and timely clinical intervention.

As such, amidst ongoing concern over care home residents’ health, NHS England and NHS Improvement have issued guidance calling for immediate steps to implement a clinical service model for care home sup- port during COVID-19. The model includes a weekly ‘check in’ to review patients identified as a clinical prior- ity for assessment and care; appropriate and consistent medical oversight from a GP; and more frequent con- tact with care homes where needs are identified.

Remote monitoring is emphasised as key to the support model within the guidance.

Digital, remote monitoring healthcare technology allows care home residents to be appropriately assessed on a regular basis. Assessments are done by carers or nurses taking patients’ vital signs readings and answering simple, straightforward questions that are clinically validated, supported by sophisticated algo- rithms to give a risk assessment to the clinical teams – often GPs – responsible for the day to day care of these vulnerable individuals. By connecting carers with their patients’ responsible GPs, it presents a tangible oppor- tunity for care home staff to care even more holistically and more consistently for their residents.

Significantly, by regularly and consistently monitoring care home residents, this technology allows GPs to triage their patients and know when to intervene. Usually, when a care home contacts a resident’s GP, they are seeking a face-to-face visit at the earliest opportunity. Extending the concept of the care home to one akin to a ‘virtual ward’, GPs get clinical information

By Chris Barker, CEO, Spirit Health Group

on their patients quicker and faster than they would do in that traditional setting which allows them to rapidly assess a patient, and better balance the dual aspects of risk management and time management.

Doing ward rounds virtually also allows clinical teams to respond as quickly as possible – often via video con- ferencing in real-time. Moreover, having immediate access to a dashboard of live clinical data on a group of patients enables rapid identification and triage of those individuals most at risk.

This proactive model of care allows for early inter- vention that helps keep people out of hospital, increas- es health system capacity and reduces the risk of cross contamination at a time when our collective focus is on protecting our vulnerable and our NHS.

While it remains uncertain how long we may be in lockdown – complete or partial – one thing is certain: the innovation we unlock today will inspire a new future. As we collectively find new ways to provide bril- liant products, services and care, the progress we make won’t stop when life returns to normal.