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The First Stages of the Digital Journey in Social Care 🚀

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

This article looks more intimately at what each of the first 3 stages of the digital journey looks and feels like; from paper/digital to cloud digital, up to data analytics. If you don’t know what stage(s) your organisation is in, check out our overview of the stages of the digital journey. Here we explore the stages in more depth and talk through the practicalities.

The Archetypal Care Home Digital Transformation Story

The typical timeline we see playing out for care orgs; this article covers up to ‘Rest and be smug’ 😎

The paper age 📄

If you’re reading this, there’s a very good chance your organisation is not here! This stage is located roughly in the same place as the Land Before Time in the memory of many in the care sector. But let’s jog our memory of this area as the lessons of the past inevitably embed themselves into the future.

To be clear, this was before the internet. All record keeping and administration was done via paper-based means with the help of some machines. Things like MAR charts would be all via hand, and after the paperwork was done, it needed to be popped back into a secure filing space and locked to stop malicious 3rd parties from (physically) hacking into this database. Reporting and getting data was prone to error and delays, while comms relied on landlines and a person's word.

For all its inefficiencies and potential for intransparency, the boon of this age was that everything was in one interface; it was simpler and there were clear expectations around how information was created and stored, how easily (or not) it could be retrieved, and so on. This made things relatively clear for care givers, decision makers and regulators.

The paper/digital hybrid age 🖥️

Then, the 80s/internet happened!

A computer in San Diego could exchange info with another computer in Bristol with unprecedented speed. Companies like Microsoft created Operating Softwares that let us use programs like Word, excel and Powerpoint for office work, and we could email rather than post or fax information. These changes were such a game changer, that in any sector, adopting digital tools simply wasn’t a choice anymore to the extent that your competitors were already doing it, and this dynamic continues today.

Through the 90s to 2000s, care homes began using these office softwares and keeping information on Sharepoint or on a kind of company intranet which could be difficult to manage and navigate. The chief advantage to these developments was just how efficient things could be! Work could be done using desktop applications and sending a quick email for example. There was more speed and scope for transparency. Because of office software and databases, payroll and finance systems could be set up and were often managed by one or two dedicated finance staff.

The thing is providers in this stage weren’t so happy. But why? Well, there was a blend of digital and physical information in different silos, which caused general confusion but also confusion in working processes as well.

To run digital, care providers had to create and upkeep an increasingly complicated infrastructure for their IT, which included Wi-Fi, user training, networks and permissions, info management, having an IT specialist in the team, and so on.

This infrastructure often felt inaccessible, hard to manage, and even once it's taped together into a workable operation, it proved difficult to change or make a shift to a new system when it was needed. No doubt many organisations that were in this stage when covid-19 struck have faced more than their handful of these challenges.

The Turning Point: Looking at IT again and the Cloud Apps opportunity ✨

The good thing about when things get bad, is that it leads to investing the time and resources into making them better again.

As the 2000s rolled into their 10s and 20s, C-Suite directors increasingly questioned: ‘hey, perhaps we should sort out this uncomfortable situation by investing in a change in our digital strategy?' Promising options were out there; cloud-based rostering, eMAR and payroll software amongst others, that could import existing data and integrate together seamlessly, while being operable from virtually any device thanks to them being cloud-accessible. Meanwhile, applications like office software and collaboration tools forayed into the cloud.

How could decision makers refuse such an irresistible vision? One that promised less hassle and complexity, more transparency, and a range of further efficiencies. Well, the problem became managing the transition to these systems because of the complexity that digital systems initially introduced! The versatility of the internet and softwares created an undeniable opportunity, but the early-versatility led to complexity. In addition, a difficulty was that some providers had to revisit their IT infrastructure in order to be able to make the jump to cloud digital.

Remember the just paper stage? Its chief benefit was unity and simplicity of format which made providers feel happy enough. It felt like you could be on top of your systems. A staff member simply needed a pen and some training to work with, retrieve and store a range of documents. People knew to expect things to take time. Now though, tasks happen in a range of formats and processes, under greater pressures and scrutiny, and in different silos that may or may not be talking to each other.

This has meant transitioning to cloud-based systems risks a complex and scary process, that decision makers and staff alike, who want to feel understood and supported when there’s a big change, can feel naturally reluctant about.

This is understandable, this ambivalent feeling of ‘ahhh! Change!’ comes from the excitement of moving towards new possibilities and the benefits they can bring, mixed with fears of complexity and the unknown, alongside this paradoxical certainty that change will inevitably be needed. Being in this stage with a lack of control around the change can feel like riding a river towards the precipice of a waterfall, but what awaits providers that choose to make-ready and move towards the plunge?

The Smug Part: Reaching Cloud Digital 😎

After making the move to the cloud digital stage, change takes on a whole new meaning; ‘ahhhh, change!’.

Providers that have hiked to this part of the digital road will take a breather and bask in the benefits of what they have achieved. What do these benefits look and feel like for care givers, receivers, and decision makers?

Firstly, managing operations has never been easier, for anyone! Staff members can log into a bundle of apps for different things (like rostering, reporting incidents, learning) from their phone and use these intuitive apps easily. These apps in turn integrate with other apps, for example, a staff member picks a shift using their phone and this info is confirmed and sent from the rostering app to the payroll solution. Staff enjoy having the choice and conveniences of cloud-apps in their lives. Another example is when a risk or incident is recorded and imaged via a phone, and this shows up on a manager’s dashboard on the app. Often these apps self-regulate - flagging alerts before and after the occurrence of issues or breaches of tolerance that are set by the organisation. This creates a smooth, insightful, fast and less error-prone experience for everyone involved. That all translates into more joy, security and companionship for everyone; those giving the care, and those receiving it.

Another benefit is traceability and transparency, making CQC compliance easier than ever. Records like medications and care plans are easily brought up and reviewed which is useful for in-house auditing and providing records during an inspection. This both saves trouble down the line and helps to uphold standards of care for all. What’s more, compared to the prior stages, generating insightful reports with live data can be done at the click of a button. One of the most amazing benefits of this stage is just how clear and easy it can be to review the quality of what’s going on in a care organisation and what corrections are needed. Decision makers have the most crystal-clear yet sophisticated picture of their organisation yet.

Finally, softwares allows care staff not only to do their best work but also enables a range of opportunities for improving their wellbeing, convenience and satisfaction at work. Staff continue facing tremendous strains in social care, so it's so important to do make their day and to show appreciation for the amazing work they do. Check out our article on the staff development and retention challenge for more on this.

Final Thoughts 💡

There are various archetypal stages to the digital transformation journey that we see care organisations going through, involving patterns of experiences, issues and opportunities at each key stage.

Thanks to the internet and softwares, care organisations moved from purely paper to paper/digital hybrids that unlocked big opportunities and efficiencies. However, this led to making processes, systems and managing information more complex, confusing, and difficult to change. Compared to the simplicity of paper, this put care providers in an increasingly uncomfortable position.

The complexity of digital/physical systems in care organisations created confusion and constraints when change was needed. But with the advent of cloud computing and softwares, which are live, easily accessible and integrateable, this gave a way-out where this confusion could be resolved, with a good strategy and a budget for change.

The care organisations that have reached the cloud digital stage enjoy benefits such as more simplicity, transparency, and higher care and compliance standards thanks to embracing change. While this is a great place to be now, there are even greater fruits and opportunities further ahead in the journey which we will explore in our next article!

Have you been thinking about digital transformation as a solution to the challenges your care organisation is facing? We love helping care organisations to procure, deploy and embrace digital tech that improves the lives of everyone in care. Want to talk through your plans in a no-obligation chat? Get in touch with us for a virtual or in-person coffee.


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