Innovation In The Care Industry

Technology could bring positive change to struggling carers and patients

Understaffed, underfunded and under resourced, the care industry is in dire need of disruption. According to a report by the Health Foundation, the gap between cost and revenue in the sector will reach £2.1bn in the next two years. An earlier study by Skills For Care examined the equally serious challenge of finding and retaining suitable care staff, estimating that 340,000 employees leave their jobs each year. Outside of the UK the situation is little better, with US home care expenditure increasing at an exponential rate since the 1960s. In an industry that can’t get the funding and can’t get the staff, can technology make a difference?

Caring about disruption

Cera, a HealthTech startup based in London, is a rising company that hopes to bring the efficiency of the digital world to the provision of care. Earlier this year, Cera received a £12.5m investment to launch a digitalised, constant care service. With backing from Sir Nick Clegg and Peter Sands, the ex-chief of Standard Chartered, Cera is in a prime position to transform home care within the UK and Germany.

“Social care is a sector that is experiencing several challenges at the moment, in terms of quality, transparency, and efficiency. There are thousands of care providers across the country who use a very limited amount of technology, if any,” says Dr. Ben Marthappu, cofounder of Cera.

But, as he explains, this also presents an opportunity for improvement through innovation. Cera’s aim is to provide fast, high quality home care, organising carers to visit people’s homes to help them live more independently. This includes people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, mental health issues, and the elderly. 

Cera is also releasing a service called CeraFlex, in which a carer will visit a person three times during the day rather than being present for the entire time. If someone is sleeping or watching television, they don’t necessarily need the carer to be there. However, if care is required at any point when the original carer is absent, the CeraFlex service guarantees that someone will be there within 30 minutes.

“The reason why this model is interesting is because it drastically reduces the cost of care,” Mathappu says. “Compared to live-in or all day care, it’s up to 75 per cent cheaper, saving a given family £20,000 a year. It also provides people with 24/7, round the clock access to care, night or day. This is heavily underpinned by technology.”

Care as a service

Could CeraFlex represent a move towards care as a service? Marthappu says that he sees Cera as transforming the care service model. This includes leveraging machine learning, data analysis, mobile apps and digital record keeping. On demand and personalised approaches to business finally seem to be making an appearance in the industries that need it most. Cera is one of many healthtech companies that want to make a difference in the problematic industry. Oxford based OxSight, for example, has created non intrusive Augmented Reality glasses for the visually impaired. Commercial roll out could not only change lives, but reduce the burden on care.

There is also a long list of DIY health apps that can be downloaded and used by anyone with a smartphone. An app that tracks cardiovascular health is helpful and interesting for a generally healthy individual, but for someone with a heart condition, it could be absolutely vital. These services, and more, have stepped in where traditional providers have failed. But why have incumbents and official bodies moved so slowly? Care as an industry faces huge challenges, not least of all employee retention. According to Marthappu, 900 UK carers leave their jobs every day. That said, governing bodies are making an effort to fix the ongoing care dilemma. Later this year, the UK government will publish a green paper on social care which is expected to offer an improvement plan as well as recommendations for businesses in the sector.

Social care has faced an uphill struggle, but there is no denying the efforts being made to future proof the industry. There is much room for improvement, but it is this that has created such a massive opportunity for tech savvy businesses. Cera is just one of the companies using innovative technology to alleviate the ongoing social care crisis. In light of the world’s growing, ageing population, it’s imperative to build care services that can handle mass demand. Technologies will combine to achieve this goal, along with a wider public understanding of their own personal health. Organisations will need to band together to find the best solutions, even if that means working with potential competitors.

“Live-in and all day care has existed for centuries, but we’re now transforming that using technology that wasn’t available before,” says Marthappu. “There are thousands of care companies already in the UK, but I firmly believe that the time has come for them to embrace technology.”

Can digitalisation save the home care industry? What other technologies could be leveraged to improve the services offered by carers? Are the days of multiple care providers numbered? Share your thoughts.

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