Why an ageing population is necessitating change
By 2029, estimates show that senior patients will make up 20 percent of the population and a considerable share of healthcare spending.
- With an ageing society, more care is being given in the community and the age of carers is increasing.
- We have older nurses and professional carers – demonstrated by 39% of healthcare organisations using geriatric caregivers to supplement patient care
- Seniors are helping seniors. Family members are caring for loved ones.
The Health Foundation’s report, "What’s the problem with social care, and why do we need to do better?” highlights that informal carers continue to absorb the bulk of the pressure. It also states that Cuts in local authority social care spending have led to increased use of A&E services by people aged 65 and over.
Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, expressed her concern by saying it was a disgrace that there were people who were not getting the support they needed for daily essentials such as, getting dressed, going to the toilet, taking their medication or preparing their food. She said, “Unless policy makers are willing to invest in care, hundreds of thousands of older people face a bleak future, living without their needs being met.”
The healthcare industry’s challenge: cut costs AND improve
The challenge for health service leaders, set by the UK’s Prime Minister is to “cut waste” as they draw up a new 10 year plan. Mrs May said, This must be a plan that ensures every penny is well spent… It must be a plan that tackles waste, reduces bureaucracy and eliminates unacceptable variation, with all these efficiency savings reinvested back into patient care.
Despite 12 green and white papers and five independent commissions over the last 20 years, successive governments have ducked the challenge of social care reform (source: The Health Foundation).
There’s also an additional challenge whilst costs are managed, and that is to meet the expectations of patients themselves. That’s because the expectations of patients are also changing: they’re tired of and are no longer willing to accept that receiving care focuses just on increasing the number of days left without maximising the quality of that time. They also now have more information available to help them decide what type and amount of care they would like.
Meeting and solving this challenge requires a focus on a wellbeing and prevention service, whilst maintaining their independence.
The role of research and technology
In the words of David Marx, if you design a bad system, it will “lead to an increased rate of human error and an increased rate of at risk or risky behaviour”. Indeed, most organisations – including the NHS – are using structures and management practices that are out-of-date.
The healthcare industry needs to use research and technology to get ahead of its current needs and embrace emergence that goes beyond both legislative and governing body standards. “Emergence of new possibilities and futures comes from inquiry about what now/ next… emergence needs a new space… we have to be fundamentally curious.”
By working smarter rather than harder, it will be able to adapt and meet future needs. Healthcare providers need to strive to do better, “Comfort may be derived from doing “just enough” to meet ethical and legal work obligations; stand-out organisations continually strive to do better” Sara Pazell.
Across industry sectors, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are being used to enable organisations to work smarter rather than harder and enable them to both adapt to and meet future needs.
However, it is important to recognise and realise that machine learning will redesign, not replace, work. MIT Sloan professor Erik Brynjolfsson identifies that powerful, narrow AI systems already exist which are capable of solving certain, specific problems at human or super-human levels of accuracy, typically using deep neural networks. Those technologies are adept at tasks involving predictive analytics, speech and image recognition, and natural language processing, among others.
However, we need to use AI properly; robots can only cater to numbers and algorithms and will never address the components of human life such as integrity and dignity. It also lacks the intuitive human instinct that doctors rely along while clinical decisions about a patient. Physicians and carers will always be required to understand human disease and treat them with empathy and sincerity.
AI and other technology therefore needs to complement our nurses and carers – in hospitals, care organisations, the community and in patients’ homes.
- Technology can give care-givers the time to use the soft-skills that dramatically increase the perception of ‘good care’ and quality of life.
- Technology also needs to work in a way that is beneficial for both patient and their carer. For example, many of the patient aids and methodology used within inbed care are designed to prevent muscular-skeletal damage of the care-giver. However, their use puts patients at risk of force-related tissue damage.
Technology used together can prevent force-related tissue damage and improve quality of life. For this to happen, it needs to work with gravity to protect both patient and carer’s biotensegrity (their fascia, and the body’s natural way – homeostasis – of working within gravity and using tensegrity) to avoid both tissue damage and muscular skeletal injuries.
Increasing pressures mean that the healthcare sector needs to adapt so that care is improved whilst reducing costs. It needs to embrace new technology to allow this to happen. However, the role of AI and ML is to redesign not replace the roles of nurses and carers. It should enhance how care is given to allow time for the care-givers’ softer skills to be used and improve the quality of care.
Above all, technological advances need to work together synergetically and with (rather than against) gravity to enhance patients and carer’s own innate mechanisms to protect against force-related tissue damage. It needs to be intuitive to enable older carers and non-trained care-givers to provide the much-needed community care required for our ageing population.
Using technology in this way will allow healthcare to work smarter, reduce costs and improve the quality of care.