SCIE Report 15: Using digital media to access information and good practice for paid carers of older people: A feasibility study
By the Interactive Technologies Research Group
Published: September 2006
This report describes a study commissioned by SCIE and jointly funded with the National Knowledge Service. It was carried out by the University of Brighton to explore the feasibility and the appropriateness of digital technologies to support the work of paid carers in residential care homes for older people.
- Residential care homes are run according to a set of well-established, paper-based working practices that tend not to make use of digital technology in any major way.
- Face-to-face interaction among staff is particularly prized as a way of communicating subtle information and in team building. Communication with the outside world is also verbal, via telephone.
- Skilful use of paper-based information sources resolves the tension between the need to ensure confidentiality for residents and to facilitate quick and easy access to non-confidential information by all staff.
- There is a relatively clear distinction between senior staff who take responsibility for decision making and tend to be the ones making use of computers, and care staff who engage in practical care work and tend to be uninterested in computer technology.
- Computers tend to be used for word processing, email and resident records.
- Few digital information sources are called on, but the telephone version of NHS Direct is valued.
- Information and communication technologies (ICT) played little part in training for care workers as a delivery mechanism, and none as a topic for study.
- Although most care staff are familiar with digital technologies, ICT played little part in their working lives.
- Managers were more likely than their care staff to use email, the Internet and computers at work.
There are four areas where care homes can benefit from digital technologies.
- Communication and record keeping. A combination of handheld input and display devices, and a shared whiteboard to display and store notes might cut down on redundant information storage and trap any stray messages, in a way that might be easy to use and non-intrusive. This would also avoid the physical work of manually entering the information in centralised files.
- Training support. A service that prompted assistants about the credits they needed to have assessed and kept a record of achievement could usefully be provided on an unobtrusive handheld device.
- Information sharing. A website designed specifically for carers in residential homes for older people could be an effective way of sharing information, particularly if local sites could be created. However, sites would need to be populated with practical information of immediate use to carers rather than simply policy documents or academic reports, which would be unlikely to be read.
- Community building. There is some evidence of demand for services that facilitate community building among care workers, and this could be a useful adjunct to an information sharing or a training website. Intranets seem to be used for this purpose in homes that are currently part of groups - at least in the voluntary and not-for profit area.
The provision of information services for paid care workers has lagged behind provision in comparable professions such as the health services, where a multitude of initiatives have been put in place.
Social care may eventually benefit from such initiatives, but until now there has been little investment in digital services and tools for those in social care professions. In particular, there has been little in the way of extending information and communication services to care workers such as those employed in residential homes for the elderly.
This report explores the feasibility and the appropriateness of digital technologies in supporting the work of paid carers in residential care homes for the elderly.
This report will be of interest to service providers, commissionees and to researchers and academics.