Features: October 7th, 2016

The days of social workers scribbling long-hand notes onto paper forms during a family visit could be numbered, suggests Mark Raeburn, managing director at Capita One.

A new survey of local authority senior leaders has indicated that the social care sector could be on the verge of ditching the traditional paper trail in favour of a more technological route.

In the survey, carried out by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) in partnership with Capita One, 60% of those questioned stated that social care practitioners are either already recording information electronically at the point of contact – or will be within the next two years.

But what are the implications of a more technologically enhanced social services, for both practitioners and those in their care?

Saving valuable time

When asked about the greatest challenges of their job, social workers will often put burgeoning caseloads high on the list. Managing issues around workload can be complex in a world where demand for social care is rising.

But the ADASS survey results suggest that the direction of travel for the sector is one where technology is used more effectively to free up time for social workers to spend in contact with individuals and their families, rather than on administrative tasks.

While practitioners will always need to have access to key information on those they support, being able to gather this information electronically means that there is no need for teams out in the community to return to the office and re-key the notes they have taken on a family visit manually. Using the right technology means information can be captured and entered into the local authority’s software system in one go and shared more quickly between multiple teams too.

Information sharing

Almost 56% of senior leaders questioned in the survey said that the greatest advantage of using technology for social care is in supporting multi-agency working. The right technology gives you the tools to exchange critical information in real time with other teams, so that the most appropriate decisions can be made, based on the most up to date details.

As we look ahead to a more integrated future for social care, many local authorities will already be considering how health practitioners and social workers can work together more closely. If done successfully, greater integration opens up the prospect of getting more effective help out to vulnerable people and their families sooner.

But this success will depend upon authorised staff within the multiple agencies that could potentially be involved in a case being able to share information easily and swiftly.

A vulnerable elderly person could be supported by a number of agencies at any one time, putting them in contact with a social worker as well as, say, an occupational therapist and a dementia specialist. If this person attends a hospital A&E department following an accident at home, all the teams involved need the relevant details as quickly as possible in order to provide the most appropriate support.

With key information captured, stored and made available to authorised staff electronically, the teams caring for this person and their family could be alerted automatically when they are discharged from hospital, rather than waiting for written confirmation to arrive before taking action. Additional support, such as physiotherapy, or a ‘meals on wheels’ service can also be put in place quickly, which will aid their recovery and help maintain their independence.

A better experience

Technology is driving a whole new way of working in many industry sectors, such as IT, telecommunications and the service industries – and as the survey results suggest, social care is no exception.
Nearly three quarters (74%) of senior leaders in social care said that the greatest impact of using technology is in enabling more effective mobile working. Being able to work on the move gives practitioners the flexibility they need in what can often be quite challenging situations.

I have spoken to social workers that feel more comfortable using a tablet device or a smartphone to take details during a family visit, for example, rather than filling in paper forms when they are with families. Others feel that mobile devices help to remove the barrier that some perceive is created by a laptop screen, making it much easier to engage with people and gain their trust.

If a practitioner can retrieve and update information at the touch of a screen, families are unlikely to be asked the same questions time and again as the latest details will be instantly available to the different teams they are in contact with. This is one way to improve the experience of a family who could be going through one of the most difficult of times.

Embracing change

Social care is entering a new phase and technology has an important role to play in improving working practices for teams, while driving a more joined-up approach to supporting vulnerable people and their families.

As we look to a future in which technology enables citizens to engage much more effectively with their local authorities to gain the support and services they need, the survey results suggest that the days of paper-heavy, compartmentalised working will soon be well behind us.