Features: February 3rd, 2012

Social workers can become more productive by using mobile technology. Caroline Cozier of OLM Systems, explains how the development of a Caremobile App Store has brought benefits to social workers and their departments.

One of key recommendations of the Munro Review of Child Protection: A Child centred system, published earlier this year was for local services to be freed from government targets, national IT systems and regulations, and allowed to design their own services and procedures. However, in a time of severe budgetary cuts and constraints this recommendation has unnerved some social care organisations, being construed as an expensive route to improving efficiencies. Undoubtedly, organisations will want to continue to see service improvements, and more tangible benefits in the form of cash savings and intangible benefits including improved employee performance, but they will need to fund these from a new slim line budget.

Enhancing mobile working is a cost effective way for organisations to achieve both these hard and soft benefits. With this in mind, OLM Systems, the UK’s largest independent solutions provider for children’s and adult services, has unveiled the CareMobile App Store. It delivers mobile functionality through easy to use, bite size apps, providing frontline social workers with online and offline access to case information whilst away from the office.

“In agreement with Munro’s call to free social workers of lengthy administrative burdens, Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers and the College of Social Work (BASW/CoSW) has echoed the frustrations of many: “ Social workers are prevented from working directly with the people who need their services and…are under extraordinary added pressure from deep funding cuts.” The pressure on organisations to be more efficient has trickled-down from management to frontline workers. However, with administrative obligations and off site travel unavoidable, little headway has been made towards improvement.

A recent ROI study for a social care department identified potential savings of over £300,000 by introducing mobile working. This included savings of 2.5 hours per social worker, per week from saved travel time, a reduction in time typing up notes, and savings on mileage claims (approximately 20 miles per week, however, rural areas can generate even greater travel savings). In the current climate, these savings cannot simply be overlooked. In addition to providing real savings, innovative mobile working technology can both increase productivity and enable social workers to spend more time with vulnerable adults, children and their families.

Crucial development

Following a successful development partner programme, including Devon County Council and Hull City Council, the CareMobile App Store is now on general availability.

The App Store runs inside the mobile device’s browser, and delivers a wide variety of social care apps to enable mobile working across the entire social care team. Functions are broken down into individual, easy to use apps, ensuring that the relevant ones are delivered to the right staff on demand. This ensures minimal user training. They are available on all platforms, including tablet, netbook and smartphone, and are fully offline functional, which means that encrypted data is cached securely on the device. This enables the user to continue working without having to worry about having an internet connection.

The App Store currently includes the following apps:
? ‘Assessments’ enables forms to be downloaded and completed whilst with a client or directly afterwards
? Existing case notes can be viewed and new ones created in ‘Observations’
? ‘Find person’ enables client records to be searched
? Via ‘Person details’ users can view person information including addresses, telephone numbers, relationships, classification and roles. Warnings are also displayed which has an important role to play for personal safety
? ‘Create person’ captures the details for a new client, whilst avoiding any duplication
? ‘Briefcase’ enables a number of client records to be downloaded in anticipation of being out of network range
? ‘Messages’ allows messages to be viewed and created while on the move
? ‘Lone worker’ provides a facility to generate SMS or email alerts either from an alarm button or a timed function

Addressing challenges

Councils want to know the savings they stand to make before committing to or implementing any new solutions, which is understandable particularly in the current economic climate. This is something we are happy to do for them, after which a pilot project can be initiated before the full roll out takes place. At each stage the benefits can be established and ROI projections calculated.

Undoubtedly, mobile working can lead to hard cash savings and the CareMobile App Store can certainly help with meeting many of the challenges associated with this objective. It also gives councils an opportunity to radically transform the way case recording administration is supported.

In areas with poor 3G access, a signal cannot always be guaranteed when visiting clients in their homes, and may be lost completely if the home is located within a block of flats. The CareMobile apps are fully offline tolerant, meaning data can still be recorded even when there is no signal.
Historically, technology has been viewed as a barrier to client interaction. Social workers had seen the twin requirements of focusing and spending time with families, whilst systematically recording their involvement, as being mutually incompatible. Nowadays slim line technology and simple to use apps have gained support from social workers as the technology is unobtrusive and the social worker can record quickly and efficiently in the front line, thus resolving this issue.

The benefits

Probably the most noted benefit amongst organisations is the cash savings made on office space, travel time and administration time.

The App Store gives frontline workers the mobility to bypass the office and go straight from home to the client; it increases their flexibility to work from anywhere. Not only does this mean that their work/life balance is improved, but it also means that they are spending less time on the road and more time with their clients. In turn, client engagement is also improved as, when appropriate, clients can see their comments being recorded as they speak thus making them feel more involved (this is most evident with older children).

Employee performance is also improved as the App Store allows them to speed up the completion of assessments, employ greater accuracy when logging information, and helps them to meet performance targets. In addition, it also increases morale amongst social workers by helping them to feel more professional and in control.

The App Store itself requires minimal user training as a simple and modern interface is provided. It is also available for multiple platform formats and can be accessed via Tablet, laptop or Slate, with the option of keyboard or handwriting recognition, and also Smartphones.

The solution, designed with simplicity at its heart, ensures frontline workers gain valuable time, have access to client records on the move and record information more accurately. Introducing innovative mobile working technology to adult social care teams will increase productivity and promote joint health and social care working. This ensures that the availability of social workers and their expertise is maximised to improve the quality of care offered.”

Caroline Cozier is the product manager with OLM Systems.