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Over the coming years health workers and social care staff will increasingly be working alongside each other to improve the patient experience within the NHS. “Health and social care will be fully joined up by 2018”, according to care and support minister, Norman Lamb.

Plans to integrate the two services have been laid out by the Government in the announcement of the ‘Integrated Care and Support: Our Shared Commitment’ report. This publication was put together by both Jeremy Hunt and Norman Lamb, amongst other leaders, to help local areas accelerate the integration agenda.

Lamb says: “People don’t want health care or social care, they just want the best care. This is a vital step in creating a truly joined up system that puts people first.” And putting the people first is a philosophy closely linked to the discipline of mobile technology which can help to bridge the gap between health and social care, leading the way in support for this agenda.

The relationship between the two services has regularly been troubled with patients often receiving disjointed care and support. This has been highlighted through information released by the Government reporting that people often fall through the cracks between the NHS, and care and support provided in the community. As a company that has successfully delivered mobile working in Social Care and now, healthcare, albeit separately, we can see huge potential for this technology to integrate these services. The use of mobile technology can combat this by providing both health and care workers access to the same information remotely, even when it is still coming from a number of sources held within separate organisations.

For example, one issue is that patients often have to re-tell their medical or care history every time they encounter a new service. By using mobile technology across a local area, each health or social care professional could have combined patient clinical and social care information at their fingertips, thus avoiding a time consuming and frustrating experience for the patient.

Better Experience for the Patient

Today it is clear that lower levels of service quality from both health and social care disciplines are prevalent. Patients are not getting the support they need simply because different parts of the system do not ‘talk to each other’ or share appropriate information and notes. To me sharing and integrating that information at the point of delivery is the answer. Surely it’s about making it easy for healthcare professionals to access data anytime at any location to enhance patient care. And in my mind the more effective use of ‘mobile’ and its various devices is part of the solution. For example, if a health worker can use a mobile device to easily highlight to a care worker if further support is needed for a patient, that’s got to be good!

Another concern is that patients often face long waiting times in hospital before being discharged, in part, because of inadequate coordination between hospital and social care staff. At present delayed discharges cost the NHS a staggering £370million a year. Again efficiencies can be made by empowering improved handovers between health and social care workers, and mobile technology can help to achieve this. Not only that, but how good would it be if  care and support needed at home could be  arranged before the patient is discharged from hospital, avoiding readmissions and a better experience for the patient. Well it can.

Co-ordination is Key

Uncoordinated home visits from health or care workers to those who need support is another issue. Numerous visits at inconvenient times can be frustrating, time consuming and making for an unhappy patient experience. So enabling healthcare workers to see when a patient’s last visit was, or when another is scheduled to allow visits to tie in with other services as well as the patient’s schedule would be beneficial.

But the reality is that this is all achievable simply by relevant staff being given easy access to patient data through a mobile device.

So What for the Future?

The King’s Fund has launched a new commission on the future of health and social care. The findings of which will be produced in an interim report in early 2014, and in a final report by September 2014. The commission will ask whether the post-war settlement – which established the NHS as a universal service, free at the point of use and social care as a separately funded, means-tested service – remains fit for purpose. It will explore whether, and if so, how, the settlement should be re-shaped by bringing the NHS and social care system closer together.

Whilst these commissions and publications are important, we should be acting now and not waiting until 2014!

As someone who has always championed the use of mobile technology I am surprised by the lack of its adoption in order to integrate health and social care. Instead of commissioning yet more reports, we should be taking action and putting in place technologies that can save time and money and enable health and social care integration to be realised sooner rather than later.

 

Colin Reid, CEO at Totalmobile Ltd

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