Grete Kvernland-Berg, a public service expert at PA Consulting, shares her views on how new technologies can change public welfare services in Norway.
Minister for the Elderly and Public Health, Sylvi Listhaug, has stated that several nursing homes with own kitchens are the solution to the problems of an aging population. I disagree. Our politicians should focus more on how technology and home help can solve the challenges.
In 20 years, every third person will be over 70 in many district municipalities, according to Statistics Norway. Although people will work until they’re older, a significantly higher proportion of the population will suffer from chronic diseases, such as dementia. Yet the municipalities already have more than 5,000 vacancies for nurses, and by 2035 the figure could be as high as 28,000. And on average, each nursing home costs between NOK 800,000 and 1 million per year.
Projections show Norwegian municipalities must multiply their nursing home capacity if they continue to provide services the same way. Cearly, there isn’t the staff or money for this.
Caring for elderly people living at home costs 75 per cent less than caring for them in a nursing home. And research shows that elderly people who live at home longer experience increased quality of life. Using everyday technology to help people take medication at the right time, control light and heat, increase safety and help them navigate outdoors, many elderly people can stay longer at home. They can also use technology to maintain social contact and speak with their family more often.
In recent years, we have received several concrete examples of how the municipalities save large sums of money by using new technology. A municipality in Eastern Norway has 1,100 recipients of home services. Of these, 330 people receive visits from the home care service daily to deliver medications. In January 2018, 53 of these residents received a medical robot to help them take their medicine on time. During that quarter, the municipality saved NOK 1.7 million due to reduction of resources used for home service.
Another example is a small municipality in central Norway that saved two man-years by using a digital alert for a patient in need of care, instead of their usual 24-hour staffing. It also increased the dignity of the patient.
The municipalities in these examples have worked purposefully to acquire the right technology, changing the municipal infrastructure and transforming the way they deliver services. These municipalities have downsized the use of nursing homes and invested in home-based care.
Norwegian politicians should focus on new solutions at this autumn's local elections. The battle is not about how many nursing homes we can create, but whether the municipality is able to adapt to new thinking about how health and care services can use technology to deliver to the elderly at home in the future.