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Creating Digital Social Care Professionals - Staffordshire

A small selection of social care professionals practising in Staffordshire were invited to take part in a pilot programme of digital upskilling action learning sets (ALSs) to create digital champions in social care to encourage the use of digital tools between social care professionals and their service users.

The project was undertaken to increase the uptake of Technology Enabled Care (TEC) and showcase what is possible through the introduction of digital tools and modes of delivery in front-line social care. Encouraging social care professionals to adopt and implement digital tools with service users for whom they are responsible and to make the most of opportunities for digital tools in relation to their own role, productivity and efficiency can be improved. Digital tools can help to empower service users (and their carers) to take more responsibility for their health and well-being and lead a more independent life. By enhancing engagement, focusing on prevention of deterioration of health / social conditions, technology enable care/digital tools can help to create a sustainable health and social care and provide a viable approach for more effective and productive working by social care professionals.

It is widely recognised that Information and assistive technologies can transform the way that care services are delivered but can only be an enabler if delivered appropriately to meet specific individual needs. (ADASS, 2019). In order to deliver this change the workforce must be confident, capable and competent in using modes of digital technology to improve the service provided to their users. In order to achieve interoperability and integration across health, social care and related services, front-line social care staff need to be digitally ready and confident.

Participants attended a series of three action learning sets where they were introduced to a range of digital tools intended to develop their confidence, capability and competence as local champions for technology enabled care/digital tools.

Staffordshire digital upskilling action learning programme-overview

Each individual social care professional participant was introduced to a variety of easy to access modes of technology and digital tools to assist them and their service users. Following the session each was asked to complete an action plan identifying at least two modes of technology enabled care services/digital tools they would trial within their role/with a service user. The participants ranged from those that were comfortable in using digital tools in their personal life to those that had limited experience, but all could see the value in using specific modes with their service users.

All participants were asked to complete a self-rated digital literacy questionnaire at each session – this was used to gauge their self-rated progress made between the sessions. All participants increased their use of technology enabled care/digital tools as a direct result of the programme and could see this usage increasing further if their wider social care teams adopted this approach. Many said that at the start of each service users social care journey they now had started to think where and when digital tools would be appropriate and could be used effectively for the service users well-being, whereas before participating in the course this was not a consideration. Participants could see the positive benefit of using technology enabled care and digital tools and felt confident in their ability to share this learning with their wider social care team.

At the introductory session the participants were provided with some background, explaining how an ongoing national programme for upskilling general practice nurses and clinicians had progressed and created digital champions, both in Staffordshire and also nationally, and the benefits that they had from the course, both personally and professionally and for their patients. The programme team showcased case studies of how digital tools / technology enabled care had been used in healthcare settings and advised how this could be adapted for their specific needs and be adapted for health and social care use.

All participants were asked to complete a digital literacy questionnaire at the three sessions which was used to gauge the progress throughout the course. It was positive to see that all participants increased their use of digital tools as a direct result of the programme and could see this usage increasing further as it became more embedded in their daily work life. All participants could see the positive benefit of using technology enabled care and digital tools and felt confident in their ability to share this learning with their wider team and also to other social care professionals in their area.

The results of the baseline survey show the increase in the use of digital tools/technology enabled care with service users increased during the course, at session 1, 55% of the social worker professional participants reported using digital technology for patient care 25% or less of the time but in the follow up session 88% of the social worker professionals used digital tools 50% or more of the time.

The number of social worker professionals who felt ready to use digital technology in their role increased so that by the end of the action learning programme period all felt they were ‘ready’ or ‘leading’ in relation to deploying digital technology as part of their role, compared to just 44% at session 1.

All of the social worker professionals could see the benefit of using technology enabled care/digital tools with their patients.

Modes of technology adopted

The majority of participants selected assistive technology and trusted apps to support their service users; this included those with behavioural issues, those suffering with mental health issues, and those requiring preventative and self-care interventions. Having safe and trusted apps to recommend to service users was seen as a great tool for the social care workforce, who often reportedly felt unable to adequately support their service users.

The participants could see the benefit in having a social media presence to signpost their service users to information and to share health and well-being campaigns and messages.

All of the participants were enthusiastic champions for digital delivery of care by the end of the ALS and could see how the introduction of digital tools and technology enabled care increased productivity and efficiencies.

Themes shared by Staffordshire ALS participants

The main themes emerging as outcomes of the course learning were: (1) the evolving possibilities of introducing modes of digital technology (and being aware that there is not a one size fits all approach); (2) how simple and easily accessible digital tools can have a positive impact on service users’ daily lives; (3) that digital tools can improve patient engagement/ relationships as they provide alternative modes of communication; (4) improved communications can reach a wider audience in a less intrusive way; and (5) service user empowerment – a lot of service users want to retain their independence and control, and technology can help them to achieve this.

Participants were asked what was the most important thing they had learnt from the digital champion course, with the majority answering that awareness of what modes of digital technology were available and could be utilised in their work and would make significant changes for their service users; this was a key factor in changing their perception of the worth of adoption of digital tools. A few of the participants advised that prior to the course they had no interest or confidence in the adoption of digital tools and could not really understand how this could be implemented in their line of work or be beneficial for their service users, but the ALS sessions had opened their eyes and changed their perceptions. All participants highlighted the ease of implementing digital tools in social care by using easily accessible modes of technology that are already available and readily used by service users, but just in different ways. The use of assistive technology could have a dramatic impact on a service-user’s well-being and independence and allow them to stay in their own home but be safer. The introduction of more digital tools could also be beneficial in the social care professional’s role, making aspects of their job easier and allowing them to be more efficient and effective.

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