How will care homes look in the future?
The world population is growing, meaning that the individual needs of older generations are becoming more complex. Care homes will therefore need to use greater amounts of, and more intelligent, assistive technologies.
In the long-term, staff and care home providers will need to prepare for a more sustainable living environment to house patients that require round the clock care and supervision.
With doubts surrounding the future of care homes due to a lack of government funding, MediaWorks has assess how care homes will be run in the future, and looked at the technologies that will revolutionise the way people are cared for together with Royal Blind – specialists in care homes for the blind and care homes in Paisley,
Quality over quantity?
Care homes are keen to promote quality as the heart of their ethos in the next 20 years, as research has suggested – and that stands for both private and public-sector care homes. This is because it has been suggested that this strategy has the potential for people to ‘live healthier and longer lives,’ as Jane Ashcroft suggested in the Silver Chic report in the future of care homes.
With residents requiring an exposure to sunlight, care home designs will have to reflect this infrastructure with housing being implemented onto a turntable. As well as this, connectivity will also be a priority to help combat loneliness. To do this, care villages will use small bridges intersecting various gardens so that residents will closer to both their natural environment and other residents within the community.
Technology is becoming more advanced across the board and the future of care homes is no exception. Technology is implemented to help to ensure that patients remain safe within care homes while allowing them to live longer, healthier lives. For example, care homes are now beginning to utilise sensors in rooms and systems within the building that alert staff when a patient has fallen, or when they have stopped moving.
To help those living with dementia, clusters within buildings can be coloured variously with different lighting so that they are able to recognise their own living quarters.
Whilst sensors aim to improve the security and safety of patients living within care homes, sensor technologies can also be swallowed when combined with drugs in pill form. Once the pill has been swallowed and dissolved in the stomach, a signal is transmitted and data can be sent to a smartphone app.
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Cleverly, this technology allows patients and clinicians to track how well patients are adhering to their medication; if they aren’t taking well to a certain type of medication, then this can be rectified as early as possible and the medication can be changed to benefit the patient’s health and needs.
Other versions of this technology include an automated dosage system developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Small, implantable devices can release medication from inside the body, controlled by an embedded microchip. For people with long-term conditions – or for women on contraception, dosages can be given for up to ten years without patients having to physically induce medication.
These types of technologies are specifically designed to ensure patient comfort, and help to guarantee their safety while living in care.
The majority of older people are keen to keep hold of their independence and technologies of the future are enabling those with specific care requirements to live their life in a more self-sufficient way.
Wearable technologies are currently used by patients and residents to monitor heart rates, steps, and distance covered – but in the future, they will help to monitor fluid retention and respiratory rates. This will help lower hospital admissions, allowing patients to understand their own symptoms more effectively before they require medical assistance.
Known as hospital-level diagnostics in the home, portable x-ray machines and blood-testing kits alongside other technologies provide those who require care with a better quality of life by giving them the independence to self-diagnose themselves without having to leave their homes or point of care.
For dementia sufferers, robotics can be used to help deal with extreme stress – used within robotic pets that can respond to human touch and respond in an intelligent way. To help with specific care tasks, robots will provide general tasks such as helping patients get in and out of bed, whilst wearable robotic suits will be used to help sufferers from arthritis stand and walk, and they will also help those with severe mobility problems get around more comfortably.
Technological accessories such as robotically controlled curtains and lighting that respond to voice commands can also be fitted within a patient’s room. Other devices will be used to help those who are blind and have visual impairments.
Some of these technologies aren’t quite there yet but the future of care homes looks bright – for both patients and staff. The technologies that are already being utilised, and the systems that are being proposed, will help patients lead more independent and comfortable lives so that they can live a happier and healthier life for longer.
How UiPath robots are helping with the NHS backlog
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many hospitals to have logistical nightmares, as backlogs of surgeries built up as a result of cancellations. The BMJ has estimated it will take the UK's National Health Service (NHS) a year and a half to recover.
However software robots can help, by automating computer-based processes such as replenishing inventory, managing patient bookings, and digitising patient files. Mark O’Connor, Public Sector Director for Ireland at UiPath, tells us how they deployed robots at Mater Hospital in Dublin, saving clinicians valuable time.
When Did Mater Hospital implement the software robots - was it specifically to address the challenges of the pandemic?
The need for automation at Mater Hospital pre-existed the pandemic but it was the onset of COVID-19 that got the team to turn to the technology and start introducing software robots into the workflow of doctors and nurses.
The pandemic placed an increased administrative strain on the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) department at Mater Hospital in Dublin. To combat the problem and ensure that nurses could spend more time with their patients and less time on admin, the IPC deployed its first software robots in March 2020.
The IPC at Mater plans to continue using robots to manage data around drug resistant microbes such as MRSA once the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
What tasks do they perform?
In the IPC at Mater Hospital, software robots have taken the task of reporting COVID-19 test results. Pre-automation, the process created during the 2003 SARS outbreak required a clinician to log into the laboratory system, extract a disease code and then manually enter the results into a data platform. This was hugely time consuming, taking up to three hours of a nurse’s day.
UiPath software robots are now responsible for this task. They process the data in a fraction of the time, distributing patient results in minutes and consequently freeing up to 18 hours of each IPC nurse’s time each week, and up to 936 hours over the course of a year. As a result, the healthcare professionals can spend more time caring for their patients and less time on repetitive tasks and admin work.
Is there any possibility of error with software robots, compared to humans?
By nature, humans are prone to make mistakes, especially when working under pressure, under strict deadlines and while handling a large volume of data while performing repetitive tasks.
Once taught the process, software robots, on the other hand, will follow the same steps every time without the risk of the inevitable human error. Simply speaking, robots can perform data-intensive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can.
Which members of staff benefit the most, and what can they do with the time saved?
In the case of Mater Hospital, the IPC unit has adopted a robot for every nurse approach. This means that every nurse in the department has access to a robot to help reduce the burden of their admin work. Rather than spending time entering test results, they can focus on the work that requires their human ingenuity, empathy and skill – taking care of their patients.
In other sectors, the story is no different. Every job will have some repetitive nature to it. Whether that be a finance department processing thousands of invoices a day or simply having to send one daily email. If a task is repetitive and data-intensive, the chances are that a software robot can help. Just like with the nurses in the IPC, these employees can then focus on handling exceptions and on work that requires decision making or creativity - the work that people enjoy doing.
How can software robots most benefit healthcare providers both during a pandemic and beyond?
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, software robots were deployed to lessen the administrative strain healthcare professionals were facing and give them more time to care for an increased number of patients. With hospitals around the world at capacity, every moment with a patient counted.
Now, the NHS and other healthcare providers face a huge backlog of routine surgeries and procedures following cancellations during the pandemic. In the UK alone, 5 million people are waiting for treatment and it’s estimated that this could cause 6,400 excess deaths by the end of next year if the problem isn’t rectified.
Many healthcare organisations have now acquired the skills needed to deploy automation, therefore it will be easier for them to build more robots to respond to the backlog going forwards. Software robots that had been processing registrations at COVID test sites, for example, could now be taught how to schedule procedures, process patient details or even manage procurement and recruitment to help streamline the processes associated with the backlog. The possibilities are vast.
The technology, however, should not be considered a short-term, tactical and reactive solution that can be deployed in times of crisis. Automation has the power to solve systematic problems that healthcare providers face year-round. Hospital managers should consider the wider challenge of dealing with endless repetitive work that saps the energy of professionals and turns attention away from patient care and discuss how investing in a long-term automation project could help alleviate these issues.
How widely adopted is this technology in healthcare at the moment?
Automation was being used in healthcare around the world before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly accelerated the trend.
Automation’s reach is wide. From the NHS Shared Business Service in the UK to the Cleveland Clinic in the US and healthcare organisations in the likes of Norway, India and Canada, we see a huge range of healthcare providers deploying automation technology.
Many healthcare providers, however, are still in the early stages of their journeys or are just discovering automation’s potential because of the pandemic. I expect to see the deployment of software robots in healthcare grow over the coming years as its benefits continue to be realised globally.
How do you see this technology evolving in the future?
If one thing is certain, it’s that the technology will continue to evolve and grow over time – and I believe there will come a point in time when all processes that can be automated, will be automated. This is known as the fully automated enterprise.
By joining all automation projects into one enterprise-wide effort, the healthcare industry can tap into the full benefits of the technology. This will involve software robots becoming increasingly intelligent in order to reach and improve more processes. Integrating the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into automation, for example, will allow providers to reach non-rule-based processes too.
We are already seeing steps towards this being taken by NHS Shared Business Service, for example. The organisation, which provides non-clinical services to around two-thirds of all NHS provider trusts and every clinical commissioning organisation in the UK, is working to create an entire eco-system of robots. It believes that no automation should be looked at in isolation, but rather the technology should stretch across departments and functions. As such, inefficiencies in the care pathway can be significantly reduced, saving healthcare providers a substantial amount of time and money.