The role of medical devices in a 21st century social care system

Gary Steen, chief technology officer at Tunstall Healthcare, discusses the significant role of medical device technology in the future of the care sector, and how it promotes high quality care delivery in a range of care settings.

The adult social care sector contributes an estimated £ 41.2 billion per year to the economy in England. While the system is diverse and complex, it is based on principles that are simple and uniform and continue to make a huge difference to vulnerable people every day.

Social care pressures have led to on-going challenges and a rising level of unmet needs; an aging society, recruitment and retention crisis, and pressure on public sector budgets have resulted in unsustainable levels of demand.

There is now an increasing acceptance and a renewed perceived value of the role of medical devices in care service provision. Whether it’s the use of virtual care platforms, remote monitoring solutions, communication tools, digital apps or sophisticated data platforms, services are entering a new phase of digital maturity to combat the obstacles facing social care services.

Digital transformation

The digitization of care offers opportunities for the health and wellbeing of our population, and for individuals’ outcomes to be dramatically improved.

Developments in the provision, scale and quality of digital technology and medical devices in social care will improve how the system collaborates with key partners. Investment in digital transformation and the integration of medical devices has a multiplier effect in terms of reducing pressure on care staff and improving the overall effectiveness of the social care system.

Technology has historically been seen as an addition to existing service delivery, rather than a means of transforming models of care, leading to difficulties in integrating new devices effectively. Cultural change is required which in turn, needs early engagement. We must lead from the top to ensure stakeholders have input at an early stage into how technology can help them and the citizens they support. There is still key misapprehension that needs to be addressed; namely that technology is an enabler for better services, not a replacement for human contact.

The benefits of digital innovation

Existing solutions already have benefits which continue to be demonstrated. For example, Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) enables early intervention which can avoid the need for more complex care for people living with chronic conditions, such as hospitalization and ambulance call outs.

TECS, or telecare systems can be tailored to the needs of every user. These systems offer vulnerable people the ability to call a specialist monitoring center for help in case of an emergency, 24 hours a day. Such technology is scalable, cost-effective and helps individuals to remain independent for longer, as well as care to be person-centered rather than place based.

The latest data driven technology can respond to incidents and predict illnesses, while also preventing them from happening in the first place. Data can be taken from multiple sources, including motion sensors, smartphones, wearables, and recordings, to provide a clear picture of the risks someone faces.

These new approaches can benefit end users as we continue to see innovation within medical devices and new technology. A reduction in the need to travel to appointments with clinicians or carers, real time data provision, and a reduction in hospitalization will all improve outcomes for users, reduce costs, and enable more effective care provision.

Technology in practice

Technology such as RPM can provide holistic and real time insight which delivers predictive and preventative care and offer alternatives to face-to-face care.

In care settings, technology can be used to monitor and support wellbeing, and enable care to be more preventative. Care staff will take readings such as blood pressure, temperature and oxygen saturation and these results are then transmitted to response centers where results outside of the parameters set for individuals will raise an alert on the system. This allows stakeholders to monitor vulnerable people and treat them long before an emergency arises, which reduces the pressure on our health and social care systems, reducing costs and improving quality of life.

Care home staff and clinicians, during and beyond the COVID crisis, have used RPM when they have had concerns about the health of a resident; using a tablet to record vital signs and help them to identify the root cause of health issues and symptoms.

The remote monitoring approach has supported care homes during the pandemic and enables the provision of more proactive care over the longer term, as early intervention avoids the need for more complex care and improves outcomes.

In care homes, greater investment in technology can lessen the burden on care staff, making it easier for them to give care where and when it’s needed most.

The future of social care

As highlighted in the Government’s recent adult social care reform white paper People at the Heart of Caretechnology will play a key role in establishing a modern care platform which is able to meet the needs of a 21st century, technologically enabled population.

Along with £ 300 million to help embed service integration into local strategies, the white paper also promises at least £ 150 million of additional funding to drive greater adoption of technology and digitization across social care, however this does require a base level of digital functionality if it’s to succeed.

We’re also beginning to see the next generation of predictive care technology, and over the next few years it’ll encompass integration that enables diverse and scalable models of health and social care. Using AI and taking data-driven insight from multiple sources, providers will use this next generation of solutions to optimize Population Health Management programs by providing personalized and anticipatory care.


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