The care industry in the UK is often said to be in crisis, with government underfunding and a shortage of carers cited as common issues.
There aren’t many sectors that seem more at odds with the whizzy, high-tech world of startups.
“At the last official check, 80% of the care home sector is paper-based,” says Alice Driscoll, partner at KareInn, a startup that helps care homes adopt digital practices.
“The care sector is way behind other industries, maybe 20 years behind, and it’s even 10 years behind the NHS,” she adds.
“There is a lack of tech, a lack of communication, lever arch files full of data that isn’t filled in or analysed properly,” agrees Devika Wood, cofounder of care provider app Vida.
So it’s surprising, perhaps, that a new crop of tech startups are starting to emerge aimed at bringing the care industry into the 21st century.
Vida provides home and live-in carers through its technology platform, which works by algorithmically matching professional carers with patients. Currently, traditional care agencies call around to try and secure carers for clients, wasting hours of time on the phone, according to Wood.
Vida’s carers get paid £13.50 an hour, as opposed to the industry standard £8, which is less than the minimum wage once travel is factored in. “We want being a carer to be seen as a viable career option,” says Wood.
Their real innovation is in using technology to track patient care, logging everything digitally. This means carers can see at an instant whether a patient has eaten, been given their medication, and so on, rather than rifling through paper files.
Using this technology frees up “a huge amount of time for care, whilst creating more robust information on which decisions can be made, reducing safety risks,” says Elliott Engers, CEO of Infinity Heath, a startup which provides digital tools for healthcare teams.
Digitisation of this type took place “a decade ago in most industries. Part of the reason care services have not embraced technology is because technology has rarely been designed with carers in mind,” he adds.
KareInn, which launched in the care market in February 2017, provides care planning software inspired by the Facebook news feed, allowing carers to quickly see all recent information about a resident in a simple timeline.
“We plan to use AI for pattern spotting for patients, providing suggestions what to do. However we’d never create a system without the input of carers and we don’t envisage a world where carers aren’t leading the care giving,” Driscoll says.
There’s also huge potential for sensors and devices to improve care. Some care homes have introduced sensors to do things like check whether patients are in bed or monitor their fluid balance. “It’s an exciting time,” Driscoll adds.
However it’s still an uphill struggle to try to implement the latest technology within such an old-fashioned industry.
Part of the blame lies with the Care Quality Commission, according to Driscoll.
“The CQC is not at all pro-tech. They see it getting in the way of auditing a home, not bringing more transparency,” she says.
“Until they stand up and say ‘tech is a good thing’, we’ll struggle. How do you test and learn within a strict regulatory environment? There is no room for error, but if we don’t make a leap when does the negative potential overtake the opportunity,” she adds.
Despite the challenges, this crop of startup founders, many of whom combine technology sector experience with first-hand knowledge as carers, seem optimistic that we’re at a tipping point.
KareInn has signed up 40 care homes as clients, while Vida has expanded from London to Sussex, with a view to growing into further regions across the UK.
“To our advantage, we’ve walked into a perfect storm. There is a lot of talk about health and social care integration at the moment and our tech is perfect as it tracks patients all the way. Local authorities are desperate for something like us and private clients are keen too,” says Wood.
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