Home care is on the brink of collapse. Workforce shortages are now the number one concern keeping home care providers up at night.
We already know that people are dying alone, either in hospital or at home, because care packages are not available to them.
In October, Skills for Care reported that job vacancies across adult social care had increased by 52% in a year. This meant 165,000 jobs stood empty.
After a long battle with the COVID-19 pandemic, home care providers now face yet more challenges for their staff. A cost of living crisis, underpinned by rising fuel and household bills costs, has placed yet more strain on an already weary and burned out workforce.
With sectors like retail and hospitality offering more pay, less travel, less responsibility and more recognition, care professionals have been “quitting in droves”, said Sarah McClinton, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS).
And yet the demand for home care continues to increase. Over 500,000 people are waiting for care assessments, care packages, direct payments or care plan reviews. And this doesn’t include every person that needs care.
There are many more unpaid carers leaving their jobs to care for loved ones, and people who do not qualify for state funded care and purchase their care privately.
Demand for home care is soaring, and continues to far outstrip supply.
Can ai help bring joy back into this vital role?
The truth is the home care workforce was already under immense strain before the pandemic. Part of the burden on the home care workforce is created by the resource and enthusiasm draining repetitiveness of routine tasks and widespread frustration about workflow inefficiencies that get in the way of providing care.
One of the key reasons people work in care is because it provides a sense of purpose and fulfilment. Building professional relationships with vulnerable people and experiencing the difference care professionals make to their lives, makes it all worthwhile.
Increasing regulatory oversight places significant responsibility and accountability on the shoulders of people paid National Living Wage. When driving from house to house, late at night, sometimes alone, with folders of paper to scribble things down, with no time between calls, its not a huge leap of the imagination to see how important tasks required for compliance get missed off.
Then there is the cost of travel. Often funding their own transport, care professionals have to pay for every aspect of travel from fuel, to maintenance to tickets and fares on public transport.
By the time they get home, care professionals are sometimes out of pocket, because the cost of travelling is greater than money earned. Little wonder there is a mass exodus of care professionals happening now.
The role for ai is to bring back the joy of caring that brought people to the role in the first place.
Ai can remove the strain of tedious and repetitive tasks. By shifting the manual work from human to machine, not only are errors significantly reduced (and quality increased), but humans can focus their time and energy on the person receiving care.
The pressure on care professionals is huge. They have little time to get high quality care right, first time. There are few second chances when it comes to moving and handling, personal care, medication, infections control, and a myriad of other complex and often challenging tasks. Their workload is endless. If they make a mistake, it can trigger a crisis, and it is the care professional that often takes the blame.
Anxiety and work-related stress is well documented as one of the reasons that staff leave.
People receiving care can also be anxious, further adding to the stress of the care professional to provide care effectively. The level of training, support and practical experience, therefore, has significant impact on the outcomes of care provision.
By automating the tasks that care professionals would otherwise be required to do manually, their available time is increased to care for the people relying on their attention.
At the same time, the user can be guided and reminded by the design of the user interface, for instance, to check whether a person has eaten before allowing medication that needs to be taken on an empty stomach. This drives up consistent quality and compliance.
In the office, care co-ordinators can create rotas in minutes at the click of a button. The data in the system has to be good, but advanced algorithms can now consider 70 different criteria for matching a home care professional to a home visit.
The algorithm calculates a match looking at criteria across employee data like shifts and preferred working hours, service user/customer/client data like incompatibilities and care needs, working time regulations, finance, distance to travel, wait time between visits, and more.
The algorithm cannot deviate from these ‘hard constraints’ making the matching of care professionals to home visits safe and reliable, and impossible to make a mistake.
Ai is trained to see how many times a care professionals visits a home address, and learns which members of the team are most likely to provide continuity of care.
For any member of the team trying to co-ordinate a rota, so long as there is workforce availability in the system, there is no more stress trying to sort out the week’s home visits and run routes.
Even if a visit cannot be allocated, the platform allows the user to filter by unallocated visits, and suggests 5 ‘next best’ care professionals that could also complete the visit while maintaining compliance.
With far less resource and worry utilised working through manual tasks, ai-driven automation allows care professionals to dedicate more time and energy to the people who rely on their care and support. This makes care work less stressful and more rewarding.
Helping care teams to work efficiently through numerous data points
Care plans contain a number of tasks and a care visit often creates opportunities to collect key data on a person’s care needs, health and well-being.
Ai can ease the burden on care professionals by supporting them with relevant information in the provision of the care plan, while also prompting for the collection of important data, such as the signature for medication, the completion of a task, or the identification of a potential issue that requires escalation and further action.
By providing a digital guide through all data points, mobile apps help stop care professionals feeling overwhelmed, particularly when visiting a person’s home for the first time and is not able to rely on familiarity or practiced routine.
The care professional maintains control of all the decisions, yet with the support of ai, can feel supported to make decisions more easily.
By making better decisions, care professionals can help to drive better outcomes and avoid deterioration of health and decrease the number of hospital readmissions, for everyone’s benefit.
This is how ai can alleviate pressures on a gridlocked NHS, while providing people with peace of mind that they can remain in the sanctuary of their own homes.
Human centred ai design
Through its design, ai augments and does not replace the human. By being unobtrusive, ai is not only supporting care professionals in their various roles. It is doing repetitive work for them.
This is how ai can strip out the burden of tasks, improve audit and quality, and keep care professionals, their clients and families, and wider stakeholders, at the centre of design.
Ai can support care professionals at a time when they are under more pressure than since many social care leaders can remember.
The truth is we need to support and reward our care teams in unprecedented, meaningful ways.
By doing the stressful admin and providing helpful nudges and reminders in real-time, ai can reignite the joy and reward in their work.
This is the future of ai in home care, and it is here now.