Posted: 11 June 2021
At Skills for Care supporting digital skills and innovations for the social care workforce is an important part of our work. This month we’re shining a light on all our digital resources with our #ThinkDigital campaign.
One care provider who’s leading the way with digital innovations in social care is Havering Care Homes, who’ve recently introduced the use of artificial intelligence (AI) across their nursing homes. Artificial intelligence means using specially-designed technology to perform tasks which would usually involve human intelligence.
We spoke with Mike Armstrong, Managing Director of Havering Care Homes to find out more about how AI has helped support his staff and residents, particularly in the face of COVID-19.
Havering Care Homes is a small family company with two nursing homes located in the Havering area.
When it comes to ideas however, the organisation thinks big, and they know that getting to grips with digital solutions can really enhance the care and support that they provide.
Mike told us that he continually keeps an eye out for digital solutions which can improve the care provided by Havering, and he says that as a small company the key to being able to introduce and influence these systems is by getting in early. He says:
“I’m quite big on digital solutions. Because we’re a small company I try to go into things quite early on.”
It was this thinking which allowed Mike and Havering Care Homes to get involved in a pilot scheme for a new AI technology, Feebris. Speaking of getting involved with Feebris at its pilot stage, Mike says:
“By being involved with Feebris early it allows me to influence the product so it meets the needs of my residents and my staff.”
The Feebris system utilises AI technology to allow a greater range of care staff to conduct observations and allow care providers to liaise remotely with doctors – a process which proved incredibly vital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The system consists of a digital device which is linked up to equipment including a digital thermometer, pulse oximeter, blood pressure cuff, and a digital stethoscope.
By using the equipment and answering questions around the residents’ behaviours - such as eating and drinking - care staff can use the technology to take observations of residents and the system will then provide a National Early Warning Score (NEWS2), which is a measurement used to identify acutely ill patients. This will then allow care staff to decide whether a clinician needs to be contacted.
The digital stethoscope also provides a ground-breaking development in remote clinician care, allowing the care worker to record the resident’s lungs using the stethoscope.
These insights make it far easier and more effective for a clinician to conduct a remote consultation, being able to see and speak to the resident via video call, being able to view their observation data, and even being able to listen to the recording of their lungs.
This results in a reduction of avoidable GP visits to care homes, 999 calls, and hospital admissions, and ensures residents receive accurate and comprehensive medical advice quicker and more effectively.
Mike says: “Being able to take those observations and for the GP to potentially look at them earlier than they would have done means the GPs are getting more accurate information in a more time-effective manner for them, to help them inform their decisions and ultimately to reduce the risk of people going to hospital unnecessarily, particularly during COVID-19.”
During Feebris’ pilot stage, which involved 20 care homes including Havering Care Homes and covered 850 residents plus 15 GP practices, they found a 23% reduction in 999 calls against the previous year and against cohorts not involved in the pilot, and a reduction in the number of avoidable trips from GPs to care homes from around 12% to 2%.
Another major benefit of the AI technology which Mike told us about, is that it allows a more effective use of staff resource. While traditionally observations would only be carried out by nursing staff, the support of the AI technology allows senior care staff to conduct observations, allowing nurses’ time to be spent elsewhere. Mike tells us:
“One of the real benefits from a care home perspective is actually about how you then redeploy your resources.
“One of the real benefits is we were able upskill our senior carers and deploy them to do [observations].
“It allows a wider range of the workforce to do observations which gives much more flexibility to your workplace and gives people the chance to do something new and upskill.”
Mike adds that the AI technology also provides an extra element of reassurance for all staff, from nurses to directors:
“[Another] benefit is the sense of comfort both for the nurse having a secondary system, and from my perspective that it makes clinical oversight easy for the managers.”
Mike got involved in the Feebris pilot scheme after being contacted by Care City. Having decided he wanted to take part in the scheme, he then helped to put together the full pilot group of 20 care providers in total.
Mike first spoke with Care City and Feebris about the system just a few days before the first lockdown in March 2020, and at that time while we didn’t know what exactly lay ahead Mike could already sense the value in a system which helped with remote care amidst a pandemic:
“It was perfect timing bringing that kit to the market. It seemed to fit with what COVID-19 could mean.
“I recognised that if we had an outbreak GPs wouldn’t come in and I’d done a lot of work during February to make sure our care homes could be managed remotely if managers couldn’t come in.”
Of course, the introduction of a new system will always bring challenges, and Mike says the biggest challenge was getting buy-in from those staff who were more used to traditional pen and paper methods.
He says the solution here lies in your management teams being champions for change, where beneficial:
“It’s got to be driven by your managers. The managers have to believe in it, recognise the benefit in it, and drive it forwards.”
So how does Mike identify digital solutions to help drive his organisation forwards? He tells us that when considering new systems there are three key considerations he has:
“Does it save time for my staff? Does it increase quality of care? Does it give my management better information? I’m always looking around for stuff that might achieve those things.”
When asked what advice he would give other social care leaders when introducing new digital processes, he emphasises the above stating that leaders need to know what purpose they’re looking to achieve from any new technology:
“For me it’s about being clear about where you’re going on your journey – is it about being paperless, is it about quality of care, is it about cost savings?
“It’s the clarity in your own mind about what the purpose is of that technology.”
He also highlights the importance of getting the basics right to begin with, advising:
“First thing, get involved with completing your Data Security and Protection Toolkit.
“We’re all required to manage data safely and securely. Completing that toolkit is the key that will give us that information to provide better care in the future.
“It starts there, it’s about building those solid foundations for the future.”
For more tools, resources and information from Skills for Care to help support your team’s digital skills, have a look at our #ThinkDigital campaign page.