Care homes in the UK are 15 years behind those in Canada and the US in adopting technology that can help free up nursing time and improve care, according to a leading technology provider.
A survey of UK residential care providers found the majority still rely on paperwork to plan, monitor and record the care of residents.
“Most homes have some sort of electronic system for billing, but on the care side it still seems to be very paper-based”
The survey of 50 top care home groups found most recognised the benefits of increased use of technology yet many – about 45% – cited cost as a key factor holding them back.
Nearly 80% felt technology could help with care planning, about 56% said it could improve medicines management and nearly 44% felt it could help with staff planning and rotas.
Yet just a quarter – 16 survey participants in total – said they already used electronic health records or care planning software.
Of those, 87% said it had improved access to information, while 81% said it had improved outcomes.
Nearly 63% said it had led to improved care and the same proportion said it had made documentation more efficient, including reducing duplication.
North America-based company PointClickCare, which commissioned the research, said it showed UK care homes were lagging behind when it came to making the most of technology.
“They are quite far behind, especially when it comes to the care side,” said Richard White, the company’s vice president for corporate development.
“When it comes to financial management, most homes have some sort of electronic system for billing, but on the care side it still seems to be very paper-based,” he said.
“This is not across the board, as some are more progressive than others, but as a whole services are at least 15 years behind those in North America when it comes to technology adoption,” he told Nursing Times.
“It is a big shift in the way nurses work, but ultimately they can’t believe how much more time and better quality time they have with residents”
Mr White said one of the main benefits of moving to electronic systems encompassing clinical care tasks – which are increasingly being used in UK hospitals – was reducing the amount of time nurses spent doing paperwork and admin.
“What we’re doing is freeing up nursing time to provide better care and engage more with residents,” he said.
“The software allows them to document things as they happen, so they don’t have to spend one and half hours at the end of their shift trying to remember how much someone ate or how many times they took them to the toilet,” he said.
“It also reduces the risk of medication errors and errors in care in general, because the system is constantly reminding you so you know this person now needs their medication or needs to be turned,” said Mr White.
“It is a big shift in the way nurses work, but ultimately they can’t believe how much more time and better quality time they have with residents,” he added.
When asked about the challenges of using electronic health records, UK adopters said staff training was the biggest issue, while many had concerns about agency staff being able to quickly get up to speed with systems that were new to them.
When it came to barriers to investing in clinical technology, half of survey respondents cited budgetary constraints, while lack of IT resources and staff capacity to use technology were among other key concerns.
“In the end they will find they will get better outcomes, be more compliant and will eventually be more profitable”
Mr White acknowledged differences in the way long-term care operated and was funded between the US and UK, with homes in the UK tending to be smaller and a significant proportion relying on state funding.
But he said investing in technology could help UK residential care providers avoid falling victim to the current crisis in provision that has seen many homes close and major providers pull out of the market.
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“With the living wage increase, decreases in NHS and social care funding and uncertainty about social care and healthcare coming together, people are sitting on the fence yet there is an opportunity for the progressive care home market in the UK to change the way they do things by applying technology,” he said.
“In the end they will find they will get better outcomes, be more compliant and will eventually be more profitable because of higher occupancy rates and less cost in terms of wastage in the home,” he said. “They are going to see increased pressures to their margins and if they don’t do something different that is just going to continue.”
Mr White said PointClickCare, the market leader in the US, had been talking to a number of UK care home groups about its holistic systems, which cover all aspects of running a care home and can link up to hospitals. The firm is looking to adapt its software for use in this country.
Meanwhile, US-based providers planning to start operating in the UK may begin using the technology here as early as next year.