Ruli Pennington is senior healthcare writer for i-D Information Daily & a frequent contributor to Public Service Digital. She is passionate about better public services, devolution & women's football. From Jan 2017 Ruli will write leaders for i-D & PSD@unruliP
Fast exposure to the possibilities of tech-enabled health and social care has been warmly received by social care commissioners attending the ADASS Care Apps Conference and Showcase in Birmingham on 7 March. Twenty 10 minute pitches from a range of entrepreurs, digital SMEs, local authority innovators, existing suppliers and others were interspersed with 25 minute roundtable discussion sessions. The fast-fire format and content proved a huge success with significant engagement and follow up.
The Adass Care Apps conference, held in Birmingham on 7 March 2017, gave those attending the chance to hear pitches from 20 suppliers of technology to social care. Setting the scene Dr Mahiben Maruthappu, co-founder of care provider Cera, pointed out that adult social care is attempting to provide care to more people with less money, while dealing with a shortage of staff in rural areas which may be exacerbated by Brexit. Maruthappu added that social care currently makes relatively little use of IT – but the advantage is that such technologies are mature and easier to adopt than they were a few years ago.
"It’s an interesting way of doing it. It’s similar to an Unconference in many ways – I might nick it for myself.”
Marcus Devaney, virtual services development officer, wellbeing, prevention and early help service, Lancashire County Council
Several organisations pitched products that aim to help older people stay in their own homes for longer, including Kemuri, Memrica, Mable, Interactive Me, Konnektis, Mable and Carers UK. Kemuri’s product, described by Dr Leonard Anderson as “an internet of things power socket,” unobtrusively monitors the use of kettles and microwave ovens as well as the temperature, and passes on data from a fall detector. It can alert carers, family members and housing providers through an app if, for example, someone stops using the kettle.
Memrica’s Prompt app aims to support a user’s memory such as by using GPS to remind them what they normally do at their location. It also looks for patterns of events: if a user normally goes swimming each Friday, the app can remind them on Fridays to do so. As with several of the products and services shown, director Mary Matthews said she had been inspired to create the app by her mother-in-law, who had lost confidence as a result of a declining memory.
".....the format was excellent … the right balance between enough information for meaningful engagement without overwhelming (or even worse, boring) the delegates."
Mark Howells - Founder - Konnektis
Some discussed how to support and connect those who care for older person in their own homes, including healthcare and social care professionals, friends and family. Konnektis aims to do this through a tablet device in the home, replacing paper care plans, which can be used by the person receiving care to see who will be visiting. Family members and carers can access information online or through the tablet. Mable, which similarly uses a tablet device in the user’s home, analyses the individual’s health through patterns of use, the language and eye-tracking in video calls.
“I think there’s some fantastic presenters, and it’s full-on.”
Kathy Weaver, head of service for adult social care, Manchester City Council
Madeleine Starr of Carers UK showed off the Jointly service, which links unpaid carers through a service available through apps and a website. Jointly allows family members and friends to share messages, to-do lists, a calendar, a profile of the person being cared for and a medications list. Starr pointed out that 6.5 million people act as unpaid carers, and three in five Britons will either do this or be cared for in this way. “This isn’t a niche issue, it’s everybody’s business,” she said.
Attendees also heard pitches from organisations wanting to help younger social care clients. Brain in Hand is an app designed to reduce anxiety for those with autism or learning difficulties, with a traffic light system that triggers an alert if someone feels ‘red’ and quick-to-access advice pages. Director Heather Cook said that it is unobtrusive, as it looks like just another smartphone app: “You could be accessing Snapchat,” she said.
"It was a great day for us….we met lots of potential customers ….. the majority of the people that attended were senior and budget holders
"Sarah Watts - Sales Director - OwnFone
Rachel Mason established 247grid based on caring for her two adult sons with autism, and specifically on planning better ways to spend their individual social funds than sending them to a residential care centre 22 miles away. Users and carers use a visual grid to plan activities, tracking the cost of paid-for ones and ensuring the totals stay within budget – or undershoot them. “I’ve been able to write a cheque back to the local authority for £2,500 because I don’t need that money anymore,” Mason said.
As well as linking care professionals them to unpaid carers, some of the services pitched at the event aim to help professionals and their organisations. Policy Partners Project showed off its work with Manchester City Council, where it provides an online portal for staff and clients of its social care policies. According to the city council’s head of service for adult social care Kathy Weaver, it saves managers time by replacing bulky documents that often needed updating, and should also support the development of joint working with health and social care organisations across Greater Manchester.
OLM Systems discussed its work to reduce bed-blocking with Hertfordshire County Council through building a directory of care homes that council staff and the public can use to search for rooms at 20 care homes. The county reckons it more than halved the time spent searching for beds last winter as a result.
Local authorities are themselves are working to improve information and systems. Officers from Lancashire County Council and Sedgemoor District Council presented work to create a common data standard for local services provided by public and third sector organisations, allowing multiple directories to be combined and helping healthcare providers such as pharmacies to ‘prescribe’ services and activities.
The Local Government Innovation Unit discussed its work developing an app to support home care with the London borough of Kingston-upon-Thames. And Looking Local, a development company owned by Kirklees Council, presented a digitised process for assessing applications for care packages that has greatly cut the cost and time involved as well as My Health Tools, an online service designed with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy professionals to help people manage their own long-term conditions.
“you’ve got all the suppliers in one room at one time, you don’t always realise what’s out there....and....you can’t beat someone doing a pitch.”
John Keogh, commissioning officer, Sefton Council