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IoT and healthcare at home – why are councils in the slow lane?

Local authorities are missing out on potential savings and operational improvements from using internet of things technologies to help social care

You may have seen the men’s 200m final at the Rio Olympics. Team GB athlete Adam Gemili was running in the inside lane and came fourth, just missing out on a medal. Most sprinters agree that lane one on the inside or lane nine on the outside are the slowest and give athletes a disadvantage.

In a similar way, many local councils are running in the slow lane and missing out on the podium when it comes to their digital investment. One area in particular offers Olympian benefits but is too often overlooked – the use of internet of things (IoT) and sensor technology to free up more of our frail and elderly residents to have independent living in their own homes for longer, without resorting to care homes or multiple stays in hospital.

The government makes cash available for new initiatives, which public sector organisations bid for – such as the Better Care fund and selecting vanguard sites for new models of care. There are examples of successful pilots, such as those at Leeds City Council and in Tower Hamlets in London. But the amount of money available and awarded barely touches the surface of the problem, and often leads to endless pilots that rarely make it to a fully funded roll-out, even within authorities that were successful in presenting bids that received awards.

Hospital costs

According to health charity The King’s Fund, a stay in hospital costs between £400 and £2,500 per day depending on treatment required. Which? magazine estimates that a good care home costs £100 to £200 per day, depending on which part of the country you live in and whether you need nursing care. In contrast, the cost of setting up a home with IoT devices and sensors including monitoring and some community support can be as low as £100 to £200 per month.

A report by The Kings Fund from December 2011 said NHS England studies suggested that for between 42% and 55% of bed days, an alternative setting – including home with medical services or a nursing home – would be more appropriate for the patient. In 2011, the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement estimated that NHS England could save just over £1bn a year by reducing length of hospital stay for both elective and non-elective admissions.

An investment of just £1bn-2bn in IoT devices and support resources could redesign health services to bring primary care into the homes of the frail and elderly

So, for example, Alice – who has multiple health issues including diabetes – could be successfully treated at home with better quality outcomes for less money than entering into a hospital or care home environment. 

She has sensors around the home to collect data on her movement. She has a pressure pad near her bed to detect if she gets up in the morning, and remote telecare for monitoring her diabetes. Her pill box is monitored for use of the cocktail of tablets she needs to take each day, so she can be reminded if she forgets. This helps her family, friends and carers to provide support remotely when they cannot be around or with additional help from health and social services.

Predictive analytics

The data collected from the sensors Alice has installed, and from thousands of others across the UK, help to build up a rich source of data that is analysed and modelled using predictive analytics to further improve design and support of health and social care pathways to maintain independent living and quality of life outcomes.

Technology has already made great strides in places such as Airedale, where the NHS trust used a telemedicine service to help avoid 999 calls and hospital admissions.

If politicians understood the opportunity, an investment of just £1bn-2bn in IoT devices and support resources could redesign health services to bring primary care into the homes of the frail and elderly. With £22bn cuts recently proposed in NHS spending – cuts that would reduce capacity in the secondary and acute sectors and focus resources on primary healthcare – the public sector needs to look more closely at technologies that could justify and de-risk an alternative approach to avoid simply reducing services.

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