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Case study: Housing & Care 21 makes digital advances

The retirement housing and care services provider has launched its first digital system in a care home and will no longer install analogue systems across its estate

Housing & Care 21 is working on transforming its care homes and retirement housing communities by installing digital systems to improve care for older people.

While the housing and care industry still largely operates on analogue systems, the provider has decided to take a different route.

Eighteen months ago, Housing & Care 21 – a private provider of retirement housing and care services for older people – began working with Appello, a supplier of technology-enabled care services. And around five months ago, one of its sites, Walton Court, went live with a digital system.

The company has made the decision to “only introduce digital systems” moving forward, with 40 of its 240 sites going digital by the end of the financial year. All eight new developments are also getting a digital system from the get-go.

Before embarking on the digital transformation project, Housing & Care 21 had several rounds of discussions with Appello.

As more sites are upgrading to a digital system, Appello has agreed to a centralised server going forward, which Housing & Care 21 chief operating officer Tony Tench says has been a life-saver.

“If we hadn’t found a solution to the servers, which have both cost and space issues were we to have one on each site, it would’ve held us up going forward,” he says.

A big push for digital

Tench says they have long been pushing suppliers in the sector to understand that “the cutting edge of technology isn’t just a red string on the wall”.

“We have taken a stance saying we’re not going to work with analogue systems any more. We’ve been pushing quite hard to say there has to be a better option,” he adds.

“It’s been quite hard to move on with that, as the supply chain has been quite slow to move, and the cost is also seen as a hurdle.”

Tench says the supply chain hasn’t been very keen to respond and push digital like in other sectors, and adds that “the supply chain has been doing very well out of flogging analogue systems”.

“The restrictions on analogue systems have been around for a long time, and people are saying digital isn’t really ready. We took the view with our board that we don’t want to use analogue any more,” says Tench.

He adds that some were “quite anxious” about the move to digital, particularly relating to the costs, but they are “past that now”.

While there are lots of “bells and whistles” with new technologies, the core functionality is the most important one, according to Tench.

Quick response time

At Walton Court, residents would often have to wait up to a minute-and-a-half to get connected to the contact centre should they need help. “The other thing was that when they did get through to somebody, it wasn’t two-way speech, so it could be quite confusing for an older person in an emergency,” Tench says.

By introducing the Appello digital system, the speed of connection is down to around three seconds, but more importantly, it gives users the ability to have a two-way conversation. The Appello system also gives the housing provider the capacity to connect fire, door access and emergency calls from Walton Court through to Appello.

Residents are also given free calls to each other’s rooms, which enables social inclusion.

“The core functionality gives residents confidence that they’re going to get a response quickly when something goes wrong. The aim is for digital to support our ethos of enabling independence,” Tench says.

Housing & Care 21 has piloted a series of sensors in the past, including falls sensors, which Tench says are “really important and allows people to respond very quickly”.

While the technology is quickly moving forward, some of the hardware used for care purposes “looks quite institutional”, Tench says.

“The supply chain has in the past wanted it to look like a medical tool, but residents want it to look like a modern piece of technology,” he adds. “It's time for the sector to get to grips with a digital world.”

Read more about the digital shift in the care sector

Read more on Healthcare and NHS IT

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Kudos for a nice advance with the potential to save lives (and time and money, too). But, as we're seeing on a far-too-regular basis, maintaining security is not easy. Now that data breaches have become a daily event, how will Housing & Care21 secure all their "digital advances"? And if they really have figured it out, would they please tell the rest of us how it's done.
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