Digital lessons to be learned from Sweden

By Tom Morton

Digital transformation affects us all, and government, industry providers and many tech-savvy carers recognise that the elderly and those in need can benefit from technology in the home.

Digital technology enables stakeholders to share information, and so provide more tailor-made health and care services such as telehealth and telemonitoring. Communication with and about a person’s needs can be immediate, relevant and appropriate.

Such information can identify what support people need, and when, which can inform more efficient home visits, care assessment and planning. With fewer human and financial resources to look after the elderly, such efficiencies are vital.

Our current home care platforms cannot provide such support. They are mostly based on an analogue public telephone network that is fast becoming obsolete.

This should not be the case. We should be able to provide people with personal alarms that use wireless and GPS technology to work wherever an individual is, rather than just a few hundred yards away from the home as now.

Our alarm receiving centres should be able to share information with multiple caregivers to ensure that a person’s needs are acted on at the right time, and by the right person. Crucial items such as smoke detectors should be checked automatically, removing the need for costly manual checks.

Technology-enabled care enables this to happen, and means that people can stay independent for longer in their own homes, at much less cost for the state and the individual.

The benefits of technology is recognised in Scotland, where the drive for digital is supported by a national digital broadband strategy, pooled health and care budgets, investments in technology-enabled care, and a uniting vision in the eHealth strategy.

As Shona Robison, cabinet minister for health and wellbeing, noted at eHealth Scotland in 2016: “As we move forward with the 2020 vision and integration of health and social care we must ensure that health and care services across Scotland effectively harness advances in digital technology to support a person-centred, seamless health and care journey for our citizens.”

The clock is fast ticking towards that 2020 deadline, with telecom providers such as BT pushing to remove the landlines that so much home-based care currently relies on by 2025.

Lessons from Sweden

Scotland needs to realise the vision for digitally-enabled care now. It’s time to move on from these grossly inefficient analogue systems that do not meet the current needs of our citizens and hamper Scotland’s aspirations for world-class home-based care. It’s time to commit to building a digital home care infrastructure.

It is an approach that is being taken forward in Sweden, where an impending digital communications switchover drove the country’s move to digital. There, the government realised that it could not guarantee the safety of its citizens if they had to rely on landline-based technology when they need to call for help – especially when around 40% of the population do not even own a landline. Now there are over 100,000 people using digital homecare solutions.

We know that not everyone in the country has broadband. Not everyone is familiar with using digital devices. But these are surmountable obstacles, if enough commitment exists.

Local authorities and other providers in Scotland should look to embrace digital technology sooner rather than later to achieve their integrated care aspirations.

The technology exists now. The need exists now. We must work together to make better, digitally-enabled integrated care a reality.

Tom Morton is chief executive of Communicare247, host of the Delivering Scotland’s Vision for Integrated Digital Care conference in Glasgow tomorrow. The event will showcase how Sweden and others are using technology to provide an appropriate level of care for those in need. It will also feature an update on Scotland’s vision for digital health and care, and how health and care leaders can make the bold, logical and inevitable move to digital.