04th January 2023

15 mins read

From Avatars to Robots, What’s New in Social Care and the Move to Digitalisation?

By Lihini Boteju

In a groundbreaking move, artificial intelligence (AI) is now being utilised to address workforce shortages in the UK’s social care sector. With over 150,0000 vacancies in social care, sector specialists are now looking at alternative avenues for tackling staff shortages.

Cera, a social care Provider and health-tech company, is pioneering using avatars – digital representations – of real-life trainers to welcome and train new staff in multiple languages. If implemented nationwide, this innovative approach will train around 20,000 new carers annually.

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According to Cera’s founder and CEO, Dr. Ben Maruthappu, this development comes at a crucial time for social care, where pressures on the NHS and the care sector are high. With approximately 152,000 social care vacancies reported between April 2022 and March 2023, the use of avatars could revolutionise training by enabling the onboarding of thousands of individuals each day at low or no cost. This addresses workforce shortages and provides a sustainable solution for the growing service demand due to an ageing population and increasing waiting lists.

Inspirations from outside

Looking beyond national borders for inspiration, the UK is looking to take cues from Japan, a country that already employs robotics and AI in care homes for its ageing population. Upon his visit to Japan earlier this year, Health Secretary Steve Barclay emphasised the need to learn from Japan’s innovative approaches, particularly in using humanoid robots and AI technology to entertain and monitor elderly residents. The potential of robots and AI in homes for the elderly is seen as a solution to the social care crisis, easing the burden on healthcare and social care staff. This cross-cultural exchange highlights the importance of adopting proven technologies and practices from other nations to improve care for older adults and reduce the strain on healthcare systems. The use of AI and robotics in Japan serves as a model for addressing similar challenges faced by the UK, providing valuable insights into how technology can enhance patient and resident care.

Not so fast AI…

While AI presents exciting opportunities for the social care sector, adhering to guidelines and best practices is crucial to ensure its effective and ethical implementation. A new guide produced by the University of Birmingham and RAND Europe offers recommendations for Councils and social care Providers looking to introduce new and emerging technology, including AI. The booklet condenses findings from a BRACE study (The Birmingham, RAND and Cambridge Evaluation Centre), funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, which looked at decision-making and implementation processes for home sensors with AI capabilities, which had been piloted across different social care sites in England.

This guide sets out a four-step process for research and implementation of tech:

1. Define Objectives: Articulate goals and involve stakeholders such as care recipients, families, and frontline staff in discussions.

2. Choose Wisely: Select technology based on needs, assess potential risks, and evaluate the readiness of existing digital infrastructure.

3. Effective Communication: Establish clear communication channels with care recipients, caregivers, and staff, provide necessary training, and transparently outline data usage.

4. Build-in Evaluation: Incorporate evaluation from the beginning, learn from successes and failures, and plan for the next steps after the pilot phase.

Resources for impactful implementation

To further support the responsible adoption of AI and digital technologies in health and social care, a new online service has been launched in the UK. The AI and Digital Regulations Service, a collaboration between the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the Care Quality Commission, the Health Research Authority, and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, offers a one-stop shop for regulatory content and specialist support.

The service offers:

- A website providing centralised, curated and up-to-date regulatory content for both developers and adopters of AI and data-driven technologies.

- Access to specialist support for developers and adopters from the service partners.

Mark Chapman, interim director of medical technology at NICE, emphasises the importance of the service in bringing together developers and the NHS to effectively deploy impactful AI and digital technologies. The centralisation of regulatory information and access to specialist support will facilitate the adoption of new technologies in a compliant and ethical manner.

The integration of AI into the social care sector in the UK represents a significant leap forward in addressing workforce challenges and enhancing patient and resident care. Drawing inspiration from global practices, coupled with clear guidelines and regulatory support, ensures that AI is harnessed responsibly, positively impacting the future of social care. At Care Hires, our frontline staff management system is leading the charge in transforming the management of social care staff with our use of digital systems that connect your Care Home with a network of agency staff while giving you the bird’s eye view you need to manage control over all your locations. With advanced algorithms and smart-matching tech that matches each shift to the right professional possessing all the proper credentials, we ensure 100% shift fulfilment and 100% compliance to ensure you have the right people you need to deliver exceptional care.

Want to learn more about our tech that can transform how you deliver care? Book a demo with our team today!

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