How do we begin sealing the cracks in a fragmented healthcare system?

The new health secretary had barely got his feet under his desk when he was petitioned with pleas to create a holistic strategy to health and care.

It might have appeared a tad impatient, but the rallying cries from the likes of the NHS Confederation to ‘grasp the social care challenge’ are crucial if we are to enact any sort of change in our health system.

The difficulty is making the right choices for the future of our health and care system, while sealing the cracks that have begun to appear so we can see improvements now as well.

But there are improvements we can make to our care system that will have short-term benefits as well as long-term gain.

How do we get beyond the barrier?

The Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) recent Beyond Barriers report looked at the relationship between health and adult social care services in the over 65s. Specifically, it looked at how older people moved from one service to another, the challenges that arise, and how the services could work better together.

The report completed a review of local health and social care systems in 20 local authority areas. It found that organisations had good intentions when it came to integration, but on the whole tended to focus on their own goals and plan their workforce in isolation.

The worry with this type of isolated planning is that patients could be missed or issues that could have been prevented aren’t. So, how can we better integrate healthcare services to provide people the care they need and prevent patients falling between the gaps in the system?

Fortunately, advances in the care sector (and elsewhere) give us a good idea. Many of the challenges and recommendations revolve around planning, structure, and management. Put simply, how can we better use the resources at our disposal?


Identifying the gaps and filling them in

As the Beyond Barriers report ably shows, finding out where the gaps in our care system exist is the key to preventing people falling into them in the first place.

This can be a fairly time-consuming and intensive task, though, and it’s still a reactive approach. What if we could accurately predict where resourcing issues might occur? We’d be able to shift funding, resource (equipment and people) to the places and people that need it most.

This is why artificial intelligence (AI) is such a promising technology. It may sound far off, but it really isn’t – most of us use AI tech in our everyday lives, we just don’t notice it.

According to a report by the Reform think-tank (Thinking On Its Own: AI in the NHS), use of AI in the NHS is sparse, despite its many potential applications.

The report goes on to say AI could be used in three key areas: prediction; diagnostics and treatment support; and task automation.

Using wearable technology, for example, is one way we can begin to monitor a variety of metrics; AI can then interpret the data and help care professionals by predicting which patients, and geographical areas, are at risk of illness or are likely to require support.

Furthermore, AI could be used to personalise care – the report uses the app ‘Noom’ as an example, which analyses a patient’s diet, exercise patterns and makes recommendations for personalised diet and fitness programmes.

It’s not a huge leap to see how this type of technology could be used in the care sector, using sensors, apps and AI to assess a patient’s current condition such as whether they are mobile, or may have had a fall. But AI does not deal with this data passively, merely waiting for a human to see it and act on it – AI in care would actively make decisions or recommendations based on the sensor data, patient history, location, context and a host of other metrics.

This would be a huge boost to care professionals, who would be able to better focus resource on the areas and people that most need it because the admin has been shifted away from them to the AI platform. The result is better planning, improved efficiency, as well as faster response times.

Advanced people planning

In fact, there are already tools that are beginning to do this – at least in terms of people planning.

Our very own cloud-based tool, Webroster.net is built to make the ‘planning of people’ more efficient and effective through web-based rostering that allocates care professionals to visits. The care professionals can then access their schedule wherever they are, while receiving live updates, via our Bee app.

Our Webroster.net module, Optimiser, takes this a step further by automating the rostering process. Using AI, it can automatically allocate staff to care visits to create the most efficient schedule.

The outcome of which could be reduced travel distances for care professionals, increased staff satisfaction (who wouldn’t want less travel?), less mix-ups with visits or late appointments, allocating the right staff with the right clients and, ultimately, resulting in better care for the patient.

Right intervention, right time

The Reform report discusses in its recommendations the notion of the “right intervention at the right time” and this is what the use of AI is seeking to support. It’s by no means a replacement of people, but rather shifting the admin and autonomous tasks, so the human teams can be more efficient, effective and focus their time where it is best spent – on the patient.

This approach will surely put us on the right path to a holistic and integrated health and social care system.

It’s an ongoing process and technology such as AI will continue to develop. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn how web-based rostering and services such as Optimiser could help you to be more efficient and improve patient support, speak to one of our team on 01733 311 599 or request a demo here.