Innovation for enhanced social care
The social care crisis isn’t just a headline – it’s a reality. The number of elderly people in need of care is growing. In Britain alone, 1.2 million elderly people are living without the care that they need. Improvements in healthcare have led to increased life expectancy which, ironically, is putting immense pressure on hospitals and care homes. The problem isn’t confined to OAPs, either. Social care includes anyone that needs help to carry out tasks in their daily lives. Innovators have recognised that there is a need for enhanced social care, and have responded by developing chatbots, apps and wearables that are already used in mass. It would perhaps be optimistic to suggest that technology could fully solve the huge social care crisis, however there are various applications for innovative tech which could make life easier for patients, professionals and carers. So, can new technology go some way to helping ease the social care crisis, and how will it disrupt existing services?
Technology in social care
Those in need of care can now be constantly connected to medical staff and resources via medicalised smartphones – and there’s a long list of wearables that they can use to read and store important data about their health. Medical chatbots are also making an impact – one example is Florence, a bot which reminds the user what medication to take and when to take it. Relatively simple applications like this give people greater utility within their own care. Various startups are making an impact in this space including Oxehealth, a company that turns cameras into medical-grade monitors. Doctors and nurses can keep an eye on the patient’s condition without having to be present in the room, giving the subject more privacy and freeing up staff. Looking forward, there are even more exciting developments taking place. You’ve probably heard of virtual doctors, but what about entire virtual wards? They work in the same was as traditional wards, except the patient stays at home. Virtual wards don’t actually use VR tech yet. However, through wearables and connected devices, they will become far more effective. Another promising project with £2 million in funding is using Softbank Robotic’s Pepper to create social robots with a specific focus on care. Team this with Aubot’s mind control technology, and patients could have a useful, 24 hour care-bot that they can control by thought alone. It’s definitely a step-up from a chatbot nagging you about your meds.
How will technology disrupt social care?
The adoption of technology as part of social care will have a number of positive effects, including less strain on existing services, improved administration and quicker diagnosis. By using medicalised smartphones and wearables, patients will be able to diagnose their own conditions without waiting weeks for test results. Information is key to providing the best possible service – add AI powered data analysis, and the quality improves even further. By implementing so much tech, human influence will become less necessary. In a way, might be a negative thing, because quality care relies heavily on human interaction. However, if a wearable or a care-bot can match or even exceed the service of a human doctor or carer, then does the experience necessarily need to be ‘human’? Whilst technology could help to solve the social care crisis through positive disruption, there’s simply no money in the sector. Carers are notoriously low paid, despite the importance of their work. In December 2016, the British government raised taxes as a temporary response to insufficient funding, but finance remains a serious issue. Before tech can really impact social care, it has to be affordable. However, if there’s anything that venture capitalists and crowdfunding participants will view as investment-worthy, it will be the protection of their own health. Even if the adoption of innovation becomes financially possible, people will still want to be looked after by humans. They will still want face-to-face consultations with medical professionals for their own piece of mind. Using tech to impact social care is as much about persuading patients to accept it as affording it in the first place.
It should come as no surprise that innovative developments could alleviate the current social care crisis. Disruptive technologies such as AI, chatbots, wearables and social robotics can all help to deliver a high standard of domestic care that won’t compromise existing resources. Startups and innovators have flocked to offer healthcare services, but making any advancements in social care relies on an overhaul of its current economic position. This needs to happen sooner rather than later, as the amount of people in need of care is only going to increase with time. Perhaps investors and developers should prioritise the creation of a sufficient standard of social care over flashier, consumer products.
Would you trust a virtual doctor as much as a physical consultation? Will care-bots replace human carers? Can technology really solve the social care crisis? Comment below with your thoughts.