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The availability of GPs can be a very literal lifeline to help identify, treat, and manage the often complex and varied needs of care home residents.
Over the years, figures from across care homes continue to show that nearly 90% of residents have high support needs. This is defined as requiring care for dementia, confusion, challenging behaviour, dual incontinence, severe hearing/visual impairment, or dependence in mobility.
Balancing the requirements of residents with high support needs while mitigating the risk of Covid-19 is a challenge which required rapid changes to our ways of working.
The issues we have faced in recent times – or more importantly how we tackled them – will inevitably shape how we solve some of the industry’s long-term challenges, such as meeting the needs of a growing and ageing population.
When it comes to health and social care innovation we are at a key point in history, with the industry waking up to the need for smart connected technologies. While it has long been a topic for discussion, 2020 forced the rapid and widescale implementation of digital technology in a bid to keep residents safe and healthy during the pandemic.
5G’s enhanced connectivity capabilities hold the power to unlock Internet of Things (IoT) devices and tools that will allow staff and resources to stretch further, and for quality of care to improve. Of course, it can also help to reduce social isolation and allow residents to stay in touch with their loved ones.
Over the next five years, the digital health market is expected to exceed over £384bn, a figure almost equal to that of the global smartphone market. The fifth generation (5G) internet network will support business innovation and new technologies thanks to its faster speeds, greater capacity for more devices and reduced latency (the speed from action to reaction).
Healthcare organisations and mobile network operators (MNOs) are partnering to test scenarios where 5G can provide solutions. Projects include the Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care’s digital pharmacy partner, PAMAN, allowing pharmacists to observe patients taking their medications remotely via video/audio link.
In Scotland, the NHS is unveiling a new, 5G-powered, Covid-19 testing unit, which will be trialled in six Scottish care homes during a three-month period, before potentially being deployed across the whole country. This approach of connecting staff with community-based healthcare teams such as district nurses has provided another layer of monitoring and support to help identify residents at risk.
Meanwhile in The West Midlands, in a trial by WM5G, five care homes have been able to receive full GP consultations and assessments remotely. Through connected diagnostics tools GPs are able to view and record clinical information and check residents’ vital signs remotely in the same way as they would face to face. So far the technology has helped safeguard patients during the pandemic while improving access to GPs and opens the possibility of remote ward rounds.
Speaking to Marilia Correia, the Manager of Eden House Care Home in Coventry – one of the five participating in the trial – she highlighted how the 5G-enabled diagnostics tool had proven incredibly valuable to resident safety. Residents felt safer in the knowledge they had the best possible access to care, while staff valued having the experience and assistance of GPs at their fingertips.
5G has also made it possible to conduct more complex procedures and assessments remotely, such as an ultrasound scan conducted by a doctor supporting a paramedic miles away. It may sound like fiction, but the reality is that devices such as these are increasingly accessible and ready to be put into practice.
Internet connectivity is at the heart of powering this health and care revolution, enabling staff to provide superior patient care whether in person or remotely, save time, resources, and access to expertise.
Of course, remote care is never going to be a one size fits all solution. A blended, digital first approach tailored to individual care homes is critical.
5G may seem like a small change to connectivity but will ultimately play a major part in allowing people to live independently at home for longer, stay in better health and remain connected to expert care. Something which will help reduce health inequalities and democratise care.