Innovative technology can lead to better care

Innovative dementia care technology is key to a modern care home if residents are to receive good care and staff are to manage under pressure. Rishi Sodha sets out plans for a high-tech care home in Cheshire

Before the first brick has been laid in the construction of today’s care homes, decisions will have already been made on the types of technology that will assist the provision of care and support to those living there.

Due to open its doors in August, Priesty Fields, a 78-bed purpose-built nursing care home in Congleton, Cheshire, is one of many new homes across the UK planning to utilise technology to offer a safe and comfortable environment for people living with a dementia. Indeed, in the modern era, innovative technology should be at the forefront of their principles and ethos.

About one in six people aged 80 and over have a dementia diagnosis and the overall numbers are set to rise in the coming years.  A combination of different pressures on care homes will mean that many more frail and vulnerable people will have no option but to move into inadequate care facilities.

For this reason, the sustainability of care homes ought to be considered a national priority, and technology is arguably our most efficient tool to ensure the appropriate quality of dementia care is delivered daily.

Today, care providers face many challenges as the country recovers from the coronavirus crisis. They need to do a lot more than they would pre-pandemic to deliver the same quality of dementia care. Furthermore, staff don’t have the luxury of extra time as workloads have built up significantly.

These unprecedented and unsustainable pressures have, in effect, created an overwhelming level of stress for those tasked with delivering outstanding dementia care for residents. Care providers, then, must do all that they can to reduce the work burden on their staff without compromising the quality of dementia care delivered.

With about 70 per cent of people in care homes living with a dementia, residential care settings have had to adapt, more so than ever before, to ensure they can carry out the proper care required for people with the condition.

Staff wellness, too, should be a priority in social care – and this is where technology can make an instrumental difference. Person-centred technology, for instance, has become widely available, enabling staff to seamlessly plan, record and monitor the care of residents digitally in real time.

Time-saving systems

Mobile digital care systems help to reduce the time it would take to physically transcribe care notes as staff can record information at the point of care while also mitigating the risk of errors through innovative icon-driven tools. In addition, the risk of losing information is eliminated as all data is recorded in one central portal that can be viewed at any time by anyone with access.

By utilising advances in technology, many care environments have empowered staff to provide more responsive and personalised dementia care to improve residents’ quality of life. Digital systems specifically designed for the care sector are best suited to meet the increased demands of providing safe, comfortable environments for people living with any form of dementia, particularly in a post-pandemic landscape.

Links to families and the outside world

Throughout lockdown, video conferencing was one of the only routes care home residents had to the outside world. Now commonplace in care homes, video calling facilities aren’t going anywhere. Obviously, video is no replacement for face-to-face visits, but it does allow residents to stay in touch with friends and family around the world.

Technology such as Person Centred Software’s Relatives Gateway allows residents’ family members to interact with their loved ones in real time, anywhere and any time.  Being able to stay in touch with loved ones during such a long period of isolation has significantly enhanced the mental health of residents, helping them stay connected and combatting loneliness.

For example, if a care home resident with dementia suffers with anxiety, there are digital tools and cues that video software can provide to help them feel calmer and assist them with reminiscing about episodes in their lives.

Joined-up care

At Priesty Fields, we’re working directly with NHS Digital to bring GP information to the home by integrating our digital care management system with GP Connect Access Record: HTML. In doing so, our registered nurses will now have secure and direct access to information held by GPs, enabling faster and better medical decision-making. Already seeing a positive uptake by care homes across the UK, this new integration will benefit those providing and receiving care while ensuring a smoother journey between health and care services.

Inter-operability, or “joined-up care”, will also enable data to be electronically transferred to hospitals and advance care plans to ambulance services. Ultimately, care providers can now deliver true two-way inter-operability between their care homes and the NHS, increasing the quality of dementia care fourfold.

Unfortunately, care providers who still rely on paper to evidence care have been hit particularly hard in the past year due to mounting time pressures and stringent Covid-19 procedures. With time already stacked against staff in paper-dependent care environments, they have also been hit by staff shortages and self-isolation. In these environments, medical notes and records are constantly changing hands and places. This increases the likelihood of documentation becoming lost, misplaced or unnecessarily duplicated.

Such errors can vastly increase the time it takes to record the care of residents with dementia, which naturally increases the risk of severe consequences. There is, however, a way to simplify administration, free up time and increase communication through the implementation of innovative technology. The aforementioned digital care systems, for instance, reduce the time it would take to physically transcribe care notes so carers can better spend it providing direct resident care.

Electronic Medical Administration Record (EMAR) technology is another piece of software that efficiently improves care management. It allows pharmacy staff to see changes made by GPs to a resident’s medication in real time. Via EMAR, staff can evidence care through a simple click of a button and while on the go, which is instantaneously saved into a secure online portal accessible to all those who have been granted access. At a time where every second is so valuable within social care settings, staff now have the capabilities to save time, reduce workloads, minimise error, and enhance collaboration.

Fears unfounded

Technology is often misperceived as too complex to operate and integrate into care homes, but it has proved to be the opposite. We have recently adopted a new technology called PainChek, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to analyse facial cues and recognise signs of pain in those who cannot verbalise.  It is a tried and tested method of better supporting staff to arrange for quick and effective pain relief for residents.

Monitoring wellbeing

There is plenty of technology entering the marketplace that can assist with monitoring the wellbeing of residents, and which should be considered by new or existing care providers. We all know that for many care home workers, the continuous monitoring of residents can be an extremely time-intensive task, often involving routine check-ins on residents every two hours throughout the night. In one typical care home of 80 residents, the average number of check-ins per night was as high as 300. That’s on top of responding to urgent incidents and additional cleaning and maintenance tasks, which night staff are often required to do.

Integrated communication and alert systems that utilise acoustic monitoring technology are a simple yet effective step to alleviating unnecessary check-ins. In fact, following the implementation of acoustic monitoring technology in the care home already mentioned, the number of check-ins dropped dramatically to just 15 a night – a 95 per cent reduction.

Fewer check-ins mean less interruption to residents’ sleep, which in turn means they are more refreshed and less likely to exhibit stress and distress behaviour. Furthermore, better sleep also has a correlation with better appetite and a reduction in falls.  At Priesty Fields, we have implemented an intelligent nurse-calling system known as CLB Acoustic Monitoring. This learns a resident’s acoustic patterns and raises an alert when something unfamiliar is detected.

Infection control
Looking at the pandemic and infection control, in particular, technology is being utilised as a means of controlling the rate of infection in care homes. As we continue to look for ways to live as hygienically as possible as we emerge from the pandemic, several sanitising sprays have been developed to harness the power of what is known as “aqueous ozone”. These solutions can clean everything, and effectively kill virus and bacteria particles.

One of these solutions, Stabilised Aqueous Ozone (SAO), is made when ozone gas (O3) is infused in water. In this form, the ozone is completely safe for humans and is extremely effective in killing pathogens. It is produced when standard tap water is subjected to an electrical discharge.

There is evidence to suggest SAO kills Covid-19 virus particles within just 60 seconds of contact and is completely chemical-free, meaning it avoids causing skin irritation to residents and staff, as well as potential accidents. Areas of a care home can also be treated using equipment such as the Motor Scrubber Storm – a portable backpack kit that allows care staff to spray entire rooms with a fine mist of SAO.

Probiotic solutions can also be used with detergent and disinfectants to give surfaces active protection against viral contamination. In addition, UVC and HEPA H13 air treatment systems can remove airborne pathogens in an area up to 250 metres squared. This is especially important, given that the World Health Organisation has recognised Covid-19 as an airborne virus.

Infection control funding from the government during the pandemic has enabled more care homes to invest in technology for fighting Covid infection. As the number of people with dementia continues to rise, so does our understanding and capability to cope with the condition through the utilisation of user-friendly, person-centred technology.

Rishi Sodha is care director at Priesty Fields Care Home in Congleton, Cheshire. The home is part of Handsale, a group of eight care homes across England, Scotland and Wales.