Engage: Using technology to free up stretched care workers when ‘going beyond’ is a necessity
Despite already working at stretched capacity, recent events have forced the social care workforce to “go beyond” to meet the ongoing demands of the current pandemic. In an open letter to the public, Care England chief executive, Martin Green, even called on retired care professionals to return to work, in an effort to keep the sector operational over the coming months.
Elsewhere Whitehall officials are planning how to pool workers to cope with large numbers of staff being off sick or self-isolating. Whilst the sickness rate for care workers is usually under 3%, the Government has predicted that a fifth of the population could be off work during the pandemic, meaning care sector personnel could be reduced by as many as 220,000 workers.
Care home workers are already tied up with daily tasks and caring for elderly or less able residents, so the additional pressure of heightened staff sickness levels could have a damaging impact on the sector. Not only could the physical and mental wellbeing of staff be affected, but ultimately the quality of care provided to residents will be greatly impeded.
So, in a time where ‘going beyond’ is now a necessity, what can care home organisations do to free up stretched care workers? How can they ensure greater quality of life for residents, whilst balancing cost and resources?
Having to do more with less
As the care home sector continues to navigate through the pandemic, workers are rapidly having to adapt to doing even more whilst having less time and resources to do so. This is where innovative technologies and intelligent systems that can improve process efficiencies within the care home can be extremely beneficial.
For many care home workers, continuous monitoring of residents can be a time intensive task. Often workers are required to do routine check-ins on residents every two hours throughout the night to monitor resident wellbeing. For one care home of 80 residents, the average number of check-ins per night had been as many as 300. That’s on top of responding to incidents that require urgent attention, and additional cleaning and maintenance tasks night staff are often required to do in what is considered to be the quiet period.
Integrated communication and alert systems that utilise acoustic monitoring technology are a simple, yet effective step to alleviating this pressure. In fact, following the implementation of acoustic monitoring technology in the same care home, this figure was lowered to just 15 – a 95% of unnecessary check-ins. By placing acoustic sensors, with or without nurse call functionality, within a resident’s room, care homes can non-intrusively monitor sounds when a resident is sleeping. When any sound profile exceeds its individually set threshold, an alert can then be sent to a central station or forwarded to a mobile device. This enables staff to swiftly respond to the specific residents in need of care whilst leaving the others uninterrupted to rest. The latter is actually seen by many as the most important driver for the use of this technology in social care.
Limiting unnecessary in-person interactions
By having technology in place that enables staff to monitor residents remotely, care homes can vastly reduce the need for in-person check-ins and therefore help limit unnecessary contact between residents and staff during the pandemic. Whilst the complete reduction of in-person interactions is simply not possible in a care setting, providing an alternative to physical routine check-ins can help limit the spread of infection by reducing the need for workers to visit resident rooms as frequently.
For a number of care homes, domestic style baby monitors are used as a means of reducing continuous check-ins, however, these prove difficult to maintain and often do not have an effective radio frequency. This has led to many homes turning to video baby monitors, for when staff are unable to be present in the room. Whilst this may make monitoring easier for carers, privacy of residents is often compromised through this method. Acoustic monitoring technology on the other hand provides residents with enhanced levels of privacy, as alerts are only signalled should a sound go above the set threshold. To ease resident anxiety throughout the night, where check-ins have been reduced, care homeowners should consider monitoring equipment that allows carers to talk into the relevant room via the mobile handsets and the monitor screens. By doing so, both carer and resident can have the reassurance of communicating without needing to be face to face. If there is an instance where video monitoring is required, acoustic technology can be easily with cameras to provide a flexible solution.
Improving resident care
In a time where care homes are likely to suffer from their own employees being off sick, technology that supports a pressured workforce is increasingly important. Reducing the number of routine check-ins means that staff can be deployed more effectively throughout the care home to focus on other valuable tasks and providing higher levels of care, while still being ready to respond to any emergencies.
Because residents are not disturbed by in-room monitoring visits, residents can also benefit from a better night’s sleep. Both factors lead to improved levels of mental and physical health, which can improve the residents’ emotional wellbeing, increase levels of contentment and often decrease their levels of frustration resulting in less aggressive or angry behaviour during the day. This improved wellbeing automatically results in a better quality of life for the resident and creates a happier atmosphere within the home for everyone. In fact, the implementation of an acoustic monitoring solution has seen an 80% drop in challenging behaviour for some care homes.
The ability to constantly monitor residents via acoustic technology can also help workers to be more proactive in their responses. By using sound to alert staff if a resident is about to get out of bed, staff can proactively offer assistance. As a result, current users of this technology report a fall reduction of up to 55%. Better resident sleep cycles, as a result of such technology can also encourage a decline in the number of falls as the overall wellbeing of residents is vastly improved. Whilst falls can have both negative physical and mental consequences for the resident, they can also add additional pressure to an already strained workforce. A fallen resident requires the assistance of at least two carers to get them back on their feet and potentially more if they have been injured. Incident reports must also be filed, adding an additional administrative pressure.
It is safe to say, that recent events have put an unprecedented strain on the care sector. Like many other industries, technology and the digital transformation of internal processes will be crucial to easing workloads. By improving efficiencies in relation to routine tasks, care homes will be empowered to focus resources on caring rather than coping, throughout the pandemic and beyond.
About the Author
Phillip Moorcraft is UK Director of CLB; a company who develop and manufacture integrated critical communication systems.