The case for harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) in the social care sector has never been more compelling. Capable of analysing large amounts of data, AI can, arguably, help the sector with some of the most critical issues it currently faces – ultimately creating efficiencies, saving time, and improving workforce retention and job satisfaction. 

But to fully unlock the benefits of AI, the sector must first embrace it, then effectively utilise the data it generates.

To address the topic, a panel of industry experts came together at The Care Show London on 25 April 2024 to discuss how innovations in AI can assist in moving the care sector forward and explore the positive impact the technology is already having on the ground in care homes.

Kicking off the discussion was Tandeep Gill, Head of Business Development UK&I at PainChek®. He set the scene for AI use in the social care sector, saying: “Without doubt, AI is helping to support better quality of life for care home residents. The technology is being used to improve safety and reduce falls and serious injuries, which are critical issues for care homes across the country. Whilst the understanding of AI’s capabilities is still developing, the technology is here to stay, and embracing it is essential if the care sector is to keep pace with the advances being seen in comparable industries such as healthcare.”

Whilst a multi-faceted approach to fall prevention is essential, an important aspect of this is pain assessment and treatment. Cheryl Baird is Director of Quality and Care at Orchard Care Homes, which implemented PainChek® in 2021 within its specialist dementia community and has since rolled it out across all 23 of its care homes. Cheryl discussed how the group is already seeing the technology reduce falls and improve safety: “Using PainChek®, we have seen a dramatic reduction of falls, with a reduction in 91% of serious injuries from falls. Antipsychotic drug use is down by 12%, and we’ve seen a 60% reduction in medication errors. Since adopting PainChek®, residents’ social engagement and wellbeing has improved, and staff engagement and knowledge of dementia and pain has been greatly enhanced. Not only this, but harnessing the AI element of PainChek® is giving us back time, which can be spent on interacting with residents rather than on admin.”

David Marshall is Senior Improvement Adviser at the Care Inspectorate, the body that regulates care services for people of all ages across Scotland. Having run pilots of PainChek® across several Scottish care homes, David noted the positive benefits the technology can bring: “The first thing that stood out for us with PainChek® was the ease of use. In phase one of our pilot, whilst all care homes had paper-based pain assessment tools, there were no pain assessments being conducted in a cohort of 70 residents. The introduction of PainChek® brought ease and convenience, meaning more pain assessments were being conducted. In turn, residents were getting the treatment they needed, or in some cases, it was identified that they didn’t need the medication they were taking. Notably, the first home we have data for in the phase one pilot showed a 42% reduction in falls over 24 weeks.”

Louis Holmes, Digital and System Transformation Projects Manager at Care England noted the rapid expansion of technology available to the care sector: “There is a lot of up-and-coming technology in the sector, with tools like AI-powered lamps helping to reduce falls by coming on gradually when a resident wakes in the night. We are now in the third year of funding for the Digitising Transformation Fund. Part of this funding has been allocated towards falls prevention. Care providers should reach out to their local ICB(s) to see if they are participating.”

Improving care outcomes

Appropriate use of AI can have a direct impact on care outcomes, as Cheryl explained: “Our use of AI at Orchard supports our decision-making by providing objective data. When you have the data to back up what you think may be wrong with a resident, you can drive improvements, focusing on those most important to the individual and their quality of life.”

Louis added: “A major benefit of using AI is reducing the admin burden carers face. This is often an overlooked aspect but can have a big impact – carers have more time to spend with individuals rather than looking at screens. Whilst the workforce cannot be reduced, it can be utilised more effectively.”

David also confirmed that AI allows more time for face-to-face care by supporting with the speed of data, but that “decision-making still falls with the human being.” He added: “One of the key benefits of AI is that the data it generates can be used to make predictions as to where to target care and resources and predict the level of risk.”

Speaking about PainChek®, Tandeep said: “PainChek® is a tool – it elevates human capabilities, including collaboration, communication, and coordination. It is not a piece of technology that will take over the role of the human. Instead, it complements the care sector workforce and empowers them to do what they do best.”

Meeting sector needs

Discussing how technology and care providers can ensure AI serves the needs of the sector appropriately, Louis said: “Collaboration is required across the board to ensure current and future technologies serve the interest of the individual. Regulation is not keeping pace with AI development, and it is vital that guidelines are created so the tech can be safely used in the industry. The University of Oxford has established a steering group to do exactly this.”

David added: “Regulation of AI is incredibly necessary. There are some concerns within the sector with data management and protection, so we need to ensure products are well regulated and that people are using them in the correct way. Effective implementation and training are also crucial for the sector, as well as identifying the right tools to use based on care needs.”

Potential of innovative tech and AI

Looking to the future, the panel agreed that technology like AI holds a lot of potential for social care. “AI will be able to predict when things are likely to go wrong,” Cheryl said, “helping us to learn when to step in, before the health of a resident deteriorates.” 

Louis said: “AI can help improve the lives of residents, reducing health inequalities at a better level than humans can. Even the small benefits it brings can make a big difference. Despite the horror stories of inappropriate use of ChatGPT in social care, it can be used in safe ways, for example, one care provider has used the platform to create games and write fairy tales featuring the names of carers and residents to enhance engagement and build connections.”

“The digital revolution is generating a lot of data, and this needs to be used to create actionable insights,” Tandeep said. “AI can make better use of this data, and in the future, should be able to chart resident’s health journeys to identify when treatment interventions are needed, particularly to prevent falls and serious injury.”

David added: “Health and social care organisations generate a lot of data, and at the moment, it is not always used to its full potential. AI may be able to pull together relevant data across the primary care sector, including digital prescribing, the use of medicines and other health and wellbeing data in social care, to better inform health and social care professionals and improve the standard of care delivered to an individual.”

PainChek® is the world’s first regulatory-cleared medical device for the assessment of pain, enabling best-practice pain management for people living with pain in any environment, from those who cannot reliably self-report their pain, those who can, and for those whose ability to self-report their pain fluctuates.

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