Scotland’s independent care body has backed a call for a ‘digital route map’ for care homes, after it emerged the majority of the facilities in south east Scotland are still relying on paper-based management systems.

Only one in three (35 per cent) care homes in the region have switched to an electronic management system, while just two in five (43 per cent) use an electronic system or software to manage medication, according to study into the ‘digital readiness’ of the sector.

The report also revealed that most south east Scotland care homes are “dogged” by poor connectivity, with only two in five in SE Scotland (42 per cent) describing their internet connection as “good” with fast loading of content and no interruptions.

In addition, nearly two thirds (58 per cent) of care homes reported that remote electronic access to resident information was not possible for any key health and community-based professionals.

The findings emerged from a study led by Edinburgh Napier researchers working in partnership with the University of Edinburgh’s Advanced Care Research Centre (ACRC) and funded by the Data-Driven Innovation Programme.

It comes after Scottish Government proposals for a National Care Service and the related construction of a National Digital Platform.

The researchers are now calling for more support and coordinated resources for the sector to ensure it is not “left behind” in the digital world – a campaign Scottish Care is supporting.

Karen Hedge, deputy chief executive of the care organisation, said: “We support the call for a digital route map to ensure that care homes receive access to new digital infrastructures and for the continued integration of health and social care services.

“This route map must consider consistent data-sharing across the board to ensure that people receiving care and support are only telling their story once and care providers and health partners are all receiving the same information.

“Hopefully, the creation of data and digital plans for the National Care Service will aid this – removing duplication of data and developing a system that works well across social care services in Scotland.”

The team of researchers say that the results of their study “raise question marks” about whether care homes are ready for a future in which digital innovation will be key to post-pandemic recovery and improved efficiency in health and social care.

Research lead Lucy Johnston, from Edinburgh Napier’s School of Health & Social Care, said fast connectivity, capacity for data capture and information sharing capabilities were “limited and unevenly dispersed”.

She said: “This targeted assessment of data and digital readiness exposes the fragile and insecure foundations of a care home data platform for Scotland.

“The findings confirm that care homes are only in the foothills of what is a complex, vast landscape where the direction of travel is rightly ambitious and therefore uphill and the pace is fast.

“To ensure care homes are not left behind, they require a trusted, well-informed and certain national and local route map, secure ties to the new and developing infrastructures and continued integration of health and social care services.”

The study – Landscape Assessment of Data and Digital Readiness of Scottish Care Homes (LADDeR) – was set up to map current data and digital readiness in terms of connectivity, systems for collecting resident data, and how this information is shared with other care partners.

Carried out from July 2021-January 2022, the LADDeR report drew on information from 55 per cent of the 200 registered residential care homes for older people in Edinburgh, Fife, the Lothians and the Scottish Borders, collected through an online survey, direct contact and additional research.

A third of homes gave the cost of introducing digital systems as a reason why they remain paper-based.

More than two-thirds (69 per cent) which are currently paper-based did plan to introduce electronic care management systems in the next 12 months, but these were overwhelming privately rather than local authority-owned.

The study suggested that what will primarily drive increases in digital capabilities may be the investment decisions of larger group providers.

Professor Bruce Guthrie, director of the ARCR, added: “Improving access to, and making better use of, data is a core aim of what we are trying to achieve at the ACRC.

“Covid-19 brutally exposed how invisible care home residents are in data, and supporting the care home sector to develop their digital capacity is an important step in meeting this aim, which will, in turn, lead to improvements for care home residents. This study helpfully illustrates the scale of the challenge in care homes.”

A spokesperson for the DDI programme said: “This report provides an important insight into the care home sector’s challenge in embracing a digital future and we will use its findings in our work to support a more digitally integrated and data-driven health and care sector within SE Scotland and more widely.”

Hedge added: “Scottish Care recognises that technology and digital have an increasingly important role to play in all our lives when adopted with a rights-based approach. In social care, the use of technology and digital has the potential to support many areas of practice and lead to positive impacts on the everyday life of people supported, their families, the workforce, and relationships with wider partners in care.

“Technology and digital systems should direct health and social care systems in a way that encourages and empowers health and social care providers to work together to the benefit of those who require care and support.”