Making technology work for a better homecare system
In the midst of the social care crisis, it might seem like a bold decision to set up a business in the sector. Particularly when there are thousands of existing care providers across the country to compete with.
However, the struggling state of social care in the UK only made Dr Ben Maruthappu, Co-Founder and CEO of Cera Care, more motivated to find a solution. We spoke to him to find out how Cera is tackling the challenges in the social care industry, and helping people stay comfortably in their homes for longer.
What’s the best way to fix a social care system on the brink of collapse? Like many businesses born in the age of digital, Maruthappu and his team believe it is through the implementation of technology.
“Most care providers use pens, paper and whiteboards to manage their business, which means they’re not as transparent, efficient or scalable as they could be if they harnessed technology,” he says.
“For us at Cera, there are three key opportunities for using technology. Digitalisation, data, and the use of devices.”
“In our opinion, digitalisation can help several of the issues that social care is currently facing,” says Maruthappu. “It helps streamline processes, reduces the burden of paperwork and improves the quality of care. For us, it’s about having all our services in one, easily-accessible place so that a range of individuals, including GPs, families and carers can access up to date information on the individual being cared for.”
A key example of where Cera is doing this is with its AI-driven Dynamic Tasks – responsive technology which allows carers to access up to date information about an individual, including the highest priority tasks they should complete in a given visit, in order to personalise their care. This is based on an array of information including what happened in the previous visit and the mood of the person, alongside key needs, habits, and preferences.
For Maruthappu, the proof of the effectiveness of this technology is in the metrics.
“Dynamic Tasks have been proven to be 93 per cent accurate at correctly identifying the ‘next best action’ for a visit, which can drastically reduce the risk of key tasks being missed and makes care more consistent,”
“It also immediately shares updates about completed tasks and ensures vital information about developments in an individual’s care are taken into account. This is particularly important where a person is unable to communicate for themselves or may be living with a condition like dementia. It gives carers the vital knowledge they need, and is particularly helpful when they are on the move.”
In the same way banks use data to identify unusual activities in an account, Cera uses data to detect unusual changes in a person’s health.
“Using AI, our Concern Predictor alerts caregivers to any possible deterioration in a person’s physical and psychological health,” says Maruthappu. “The Concern Predictor correctly identifies concern levels following visits with an accuracy of 82 per cent. This means Cera operational staff have information they need to manage the health of clients in a way that was not previously possible – through predicting and hopefully preventing issues before they occur.”
The technology was built by analysing 68,000 care records – the digital paperwork for people receiving care. Medical professionals reviewed the records to highlight key information and the annotated data was then run through machine learning models. The end result is a trained algorithm able to make accurate predictions and apply a score to indicate levels of priority.
The ability of technology to identify subtle patterns in data that would probably pass under the radar of humans enables Cera carers to identify undetected risks and the worsening of existing conditions. As with any predictive maintenance system, this information can then be used to intervene and implement strategies to help those in care much sooner.
“Our Concern Predictor has already identified 715 cases of increased concern,” Maruthappu continues. “Its overall aim is to create preventative care – avoiding health issues before they happen. This also reduces pressures on A&E units and NHS hospitals, which can otherwise cause significant strain on an older or vulnerable person, as well as drawing unnecessarily on strapped NHS budgets.”
As a sector, the social care industry has a problem. How can it address the issue of the ageing population, with increasing numbers of people with complex needs, and the severe shortage of carers in the UK?
By using digital devices, care suppliers can continuously monitor the condition of their clients, going some way to providing round the clock care.
“At Cera we’re utilising devices such as lidar laser sensors to help with continuous monitoring of movement of the older people we serve,” Maruthappu says. “We’re currently working with IBM to pilot the use of these sensors in the homes of the elderly, with the aim of using the device to alert caregivers to possible deteriorations in a person’s physical health, such as changes in gait, or emergency situations such as a fall.”
“Importantly, such devices allow us to provide care even when a carer isn’t there, with 24/7 monitoring and support.”
The future of care
The future of the troubled social care system now largely depends on government, with much needed budget increases required to provide elderly and vulnerable people the support they require. However the use of technology should also be encouraged within all care providers, both to make existing care provision more effective, and to find more cost effective ways of supplying critical care services.
Maruthappu cites the failure to adopt technology as one of the main reasons why social care currently lags 20 years behind health care in its provision of services. This can’t be fixed overnight, but the adoption of technology is a relatively easy change to make.
“A quick fix isn’t the answer,” he says, “but while we’re waiting for larger, slower reform against a backdrop of an ageing population and dwindling workforce, we need to embrace technology for immediate change. This will free up staff to focus on care rather than admin, to drive savings that push up carer wages, and ultimately deliver better care.”