Business > Efficiency

Could the changing shape of social care have an impact on workloads?

Published 06 September 2016

As 60% of local authority senior leaders indicate that information is or will be recorded electronically by social care practitioners – at the point of contact – within the next two years, Mark Raeburn looks at what this means for the sector

Unmanageable caseloads can frequently be cited as among the most challenging issues social workers have to deal with. And as demand for social care continues to rise, practitioners’ workloads are likely to remain under the spotlight.   

The sector is currently moving towards a more integrated future, where health and social care teams will work in tandem and early help, provided by multiple agencies, increasingly becomes the norm for supporting vulnerable citizens and their families.

Could these changes be the catalyst that will spark an era of greater innovation, where technology helps to free up more time for social care teams to work with the individuals and their families?

The changing shape of social care

A recent survey of senior leaders in adult social care has revealed that some changes are already well underway that will make a real difference, not only to social workers, but also to those in their care.

In the survey, conducted by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) in partnership with Capita One, 60% of senior leaders said that information is being recorded electronically by social care practitioners – at the point of contact with an individual or carer – or will be within the next two years.

These figures suggest that social care is moving away from the largely paper-based ways of working that many practitioners are familiar with, into a future where technology plays a much more prominent role.

Right tools for the job

With the ability to record information electronically, social workers can gather all the details they need to ascertain what services and support a family requires, whether they are speaking to them on the phone or visiting their home.

The growth of mobile technology such as tablet devices helps to eliminate the paper trail that practitioners have experienced in the past – where the social worker fills in a form while out on a visit that would then need to be keyed into the system manually – as information is entered straight into the local authority’s computer system.

There might be multiple agencies involved with a family at any one time – a social worker, dementia specialist and occupational therapist, for example. Having access to digital information means that the latest details can be made available quickly and easily to all staff who are authorised to see it. In a situation where a vulnerable individual is admitted to hospital after a fall at home, there might be a number of teams who need to be alerted, so that the right decisions can be made quickly to support them and their family. Technology can support more effective information sharing across teams.

But doing things differently is not always straightforward, as the survey reveals. When quizzed on the key obstacles to introducing new technology in social care, nearly 62% of respondents stated that a lack of staff technical skills was the greatest barrier. This underlines the need for new technology and systems to be designed in a way that make them simple to use.

Tools are becoming increasingly intuitive to use and support can be built into software that demonstrates how to use it. If designed well, this ‘on-screen’ help can potentially cut the time and cost of training staff, enabling them to get out with families sooner.

New ways of working can improve the experience of the individuals and families that social workers come into contact with too.

Improving the experience of families

When questioned, nearly three quarters (74%) of senior leaders said that the greatest impact of using technology in adult social care would be in enabling more effective mobile working.

Flexibility is becoming increasingly important when it comes to mobile working. For some social workers, the screen on a laptop can sometimes feel like a barrier between the practitioner and

those they are there to help. They might feel more comfortable using a tablet device or even a smartphone to record information on a family’s circumstances during an assessment, or take notes on a home visit. So, software and systems should be designed to run on any device.

Perhaps not surprisingly, almost 56% of those who responded to the survey said that the greatest advantage of using technology for social care is in supporting multi-agency working. The right tools enable a more joined-up approach to information sharing, which saves time and eliminates the need for families to answer the same questions over again with different practitioners. Storing information centrally means that staff have the data they need at their fingertips to make decisions about what help a family requires too, at a time when they might be struggling to come to terms with their loved one’s situation.

But technological advances are also transforming the way we, as citizens, engage and communicate with the services and support provided by our local authority.

A new way of thinking

Imagine a scenario where an elderly person has fallen ill, resulting in an unexpected stay in hospital. Rather than their discharge notice being visible to their GP alone, the technology already exists that could also make it available to the local ‘meals on wheels’ team, who can ensure the delivery of their meals resumes as soon as they arrive home.

The discharge notice could also trigger an automatic alert to a nutritionist based at their GP practice, who can arrange a home visit as part of a support package put in place to aid their recovery and keep them out of hospital in the future.

Change can be a powerful driver for innovation. As the social care sector enters a new era, technology could provide the critical foundation for meeting the needs of vulnerable people and their families in years to come.

 

Mark Raeburn is managing director of Capita One








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