In-home communication and monitoring devices for health and social care?
Healthcare and social care have seen a significant increase in demand for their respective services. Not only are people living longer but they are expecting a better quality of life in old age. Due to this, increased pressures on Adult Social Care (ASC) are being witnessed across a multitude of groups and demographics regardless of age or locality.
The question is; will innovative technologies be able to effectively supplement conventional forms of health and social care?
According to the most recent GP Patient Survey  produced by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), 6% of patients had a healthcare professional visit them at home. The GP Patient Survey receives approximately 850,000 responses per year. Based on the response group there are approximately 51,000 home visits made per year by healthcare professionals.
If you were to scale the ONS Patient Survey results to the full population, then it could be posited that there are more than 3.5million home visits per year conducted by health professionals. If a fraction of these visits could be conducted remotely there could be a significant saving in cost to the NHS.
Salaried GPs in the UK earn between £55,000 to £80,000 [2,3]. If we were to take the lower salary of £55k as an example you could deduce that 10 minutes of GP time equates to a cost of £4.40. Imagine the following scenario;
Dr Lark completes 2 visits to a local nursing home per week, the nursing home is a 10-minute drive away from the practice. It has been determined that several of the home visits could be conducted via tele-consultation or utilise remote monitoring services e.g. in an in-home blood pressure monitor. This allows Dr Lark to complete 1 home visit per week to the nursing home instead of 2.
In this scenario 20 minutes of Dr Jones travel time has been saved, in monetary terms £8.80. If you were to scale this scenario to the ONS data (51,000 home visits per year) this could translate to a cost saving of £444,800. Going one step further this could equate to £3.8 million in savings on a national scale. It is also important to note that an average patient will visit their doctor 7 times per year. In-home devices could help reduce this number significantly. Reducing the number of home visits and the number of patient visits would see even greater benefit.
The figures above are for illustrative purposes only, there are a multitude of additional factors and variables to consider and not all home visits are conducted by GP’s; but these figures highlight a very real example of innovation changing the way health care can be delivered.
When it comes to health and social care, cost and figures should not be our sole motivation. Quality of care, safety, and patient satisfaction are all factors that need to be considered above cost.
It could be argued that face to face home visits are a necessity for thorough diagnosis, support and care.
Caron Sprake, Care Advice Winner 2015
“I firmly believe in human touch and voice being both supportive and reassuring. Yet sadly these factors are in decline when due to a decreasing supply of carers.”
Sprake goes on to say
“I would love to see something that is really going to make a difference to the lives of people and not merely save time and streamline the lives of carers. Not that there is anything wrong with making the lives of care workers easier and allow them more time to spend with people.”
As it becomes more apparent that health and social care are facing similar issues with regards to budget and quality of care, one could draw the conclusion that something needs to change.
“Show me something that makes me feel happy and excited about person centred care, that is more inventive than a memory depository, communication device, log in and monitor stats system.” Sprake
Seasoned tech journalist Christian Cawley shares similar opinions and concerns;
“I feel there is a 1984-esque, Big Brother shadow over remote care/monitoring, certainly as presented conceptually in the past. However, I think if it can be focused into mobile devices with sufficient privacy precautions and security, then it could be successful. In many ways I’m surprised it isn’t something that has been delivered more widely.”
The Government will be allocating an additional £2 billion to be spend on social care , however whilst extra funding is a welcome reprise, it does not tackle the root of the problem(s) around social care. Why is this? It could be argued £2 billion is not enough money to assist with the budgetary issues facing adult social care. Take for example Surrey Council, who have an annual budget of £1.6 billion, a third of which is attributed to ASC  (around £528 million). As you can see £2 billion is only just over a year’s budget for one council. There are 217 unitary and upper tier councils in the UK, if you were to divide the funds equally it would leave £9.2 million per council. In the case of Surrey that is not even 2% of their current ASC spend.
It could still be argued that even small amounts of increased funding could create an improvement to ASC however, the additional funding does come at a cost; 90% of local authorities across the UK will be increasing council tax by up to 6%. 
Devices like SentabTV (InTouchTV) are being designed to supplement the clinical/statistical side of health and social care and at the same time create a tool that incorporates enjoyment and intrinsic satisfaction for the person using it. In many ways, it attempts to marry health and social care together in a non-invasive and entertaining way by putting user experience first. By changing the way services are delivered Sentab believe we can achieve a more productive, cost effective and enjoyable support systems.
Caron draws on her many years experience supporting elderly people in their own homes to support carers via her blog and social media.
Care Advice Awards Winner 2015, Bloggers Lounge: Charity and Social Winner 2016, Great British Care Awards Care Innovator winner 2016, UK Blog Awards: Health and Social Care winner 2016
Twitter: @caroncares2 Web: www.caroncares.co.uk Facebook: CaronCares LinkedIn: Caron Sprake
With over 10 years' experience writing in the consumer electronics, IT and entertainment media, I have been fortunate to work with some of the best websites and print publications in these fields.
I'm the editor responsible for Security and Linux content at MakeUseOf.com, where I also regularly contribute articles, eBooks, and video reviews.