Over the last ten years, episodes of adults aged 65 and over being admitted to hospital has increased by over 2 million, equating to 62% of hospital beds occupied by those in this age bracket. In combination with the vast amount of people being admitted to hospital, there is also an estimated cost of £820m to the NHS for those who no longer require acute treatment but have not been discharged. Substantial cuts to budgets have hit the adult social care system hard and with that, occupational therapists (OTs), who are at the heart of transitioning patients from hospital to home, are finding themselves too stretched to meet demand.
Across the board, the NHS are looking for new solutions to improve operational efficiency and for many, including occupational therapists, digitisation seems to be the answer. NHS Digital, the healthcare systems answer to exploring and producing digital solutions, proposes that many of the problems that health and social systems are facing could be solved by better integrating the two via technology that is shared and accessible. The Royal College of Occupational Therapists also reported earlier this year that technology is increasingly part of an OTs role when helping patients and encouraging independent living.
In our recent survey, 66% of OTs said they feel they do not have time to do the most important parts of their jobs. We asked OTs what would be most helpful to them in their roles and enable them to prioritise the tasks they feel have the biggest impact. Help conducting thorough home assessments would be most valued said survey responses, followed by increased access to technologies such as personal alarms and the supply and fitting of digital platforms around the home which can ensure the safety of the elderly and vulnerable, reducing the need for face to face care.
93% of OTs also reported that when sourcing information to help patients leave hospital, they refer to information provided by their local authorities. Given the Health Minister’s recent unveiling of an additional £240m for social care, it has never been more apparent for local authorities to consider digital solutions which can help this money go further.
When we look to the future of healthcare, it’s clear that we need to carefully look into ways to manage the ever-increasing demand for resource. In the UK our aging population is projected to increase by 20% by 2024 and what’s more, we already have vacancy rates as high as 40% for occupational therapists. To continue in a sustainable manner, the solutions must be two-fold. Through technology, we can lessen the workload of OTs, allowing them to dedicate time to more of the areas of their jobs where human care is essential, and we can improve the flow of patients in and out of hospital to reduce the backlog currently being experienced.
We have seen that when technology is utilised it becomes a tool for reuniting people with their independence, but also relieving the pressures on our healthcare facilities and staff who simply cannot cope with the increasing demand placed upon them. As with all technological advances, solutions don’t replace human interaction, but simply make it more efficiently accessed when it is needed. Through our research, OTs have expressed a need for increased access to technology to help them to use their time more efficiently – we hope that should this need be answered, patients and professionals will benefit.
Richard Turner, Managing Director of technology-enabled care provider PPP Taking Care