Online shopping, holiday booking, dating, e-learning, banking, ordering a cab or a curry; many areas of our lives have been changed by the shift to digital channels. Support for health and wellbeing too is offered digitally, from fitness monitors to thousands of wellness apps. IT services are moving to the cloud and most public service providers are now exploring how digital provision can help them to manage demand for increasingly unaffordable traditional services.
Yet, despite the fact that all day every day, telecare directly supports the independence and safety of almost two million vulnerable people in the UK, telecare devices have featured little in the digital conversation. Could this be because of the way the looming opportunity (or threat) of ‘the shift to digital’ is being discussed?
Relying on remote connectivity, analogue telecare services will need to be replaced or upgraded during the upcoming change, in which the country’s telecommunications systems are moving to digital infrastructure.
‘Internet Protocol’ (IP) connectivity is already resulting in large-scale replacement of analogue telecare services with IP-connected devices in countries further along this road than the UK. Should the UK fail to act in a swift and coordinated way, millions of vulnerable individuals are at risk of losing a service they rely on. Who would bet that the health and social care system will have capacity to provide traditional alternatives in place of telecare when the analogue infrastructure is finally switched off by 2025.
The problem may lie in part in this being seen as a ‘techy’ issue. The compatibility of telecommunications systems; the interoperability of IT kit; surely things of this kind require a technical solution and are of limited interest to anyone not fluent in technospeak?
Start with Why. To borrow Simon Sinek’s great and simple call, we should remember that the ‘how’ is not all that interesting. As a professional working with public services, I have a limited understanding of Internet Protocol and, I confess, little desire to find out more. But what I can understand is the life-changing contribution sometimes simple pieces of care technology equipment can make. A new digitally enabled piece of care equipment should not be perceived simply as a necessary solution to a technical problem, but as a powerful tool, giving vulnerable people a better way to manage and improve their own lives.
The outcome we should be working towards is not a dry technical one that most of us will never understand. After all, I have no idea how my smartphone works, but I do know that without it I could not check my bank balance, locate an unfamiliar address, or Facetime my son in Australia, all from the train I’m travelling on. Start with why: what new worlds will digital care technology open up; what new outcomes could be delivered? From there we can build our understanding of and enthusiasm for a shift to digital that is rattling down the tracks towards us.
Steve Carefull is a social care expert at PA Consulting Group, and programme director at Argenti Telehealtcare Partnership