Over the next few decades, significant demographic changes will convert the dynamics of our population and unleash unparalleled demand on the adult social care sector. As our ageing population swells, the impact of the demographic force will see a greater call for complex, personalised services that support individuals and their families to live fulfilling and independent lives in their communities.

Against this background, financial, compliance and workforce challenges are also the norm for many social care providers in the UK.

The upward trend of pressure on the social care sector shows no sign of subsiding and in such circumstances, it is more important than ever that providers utilise information and digital technology in order to thrive in the new social care landscape.

The potential benefits of the greater use of information and digital technology in the social care sector are enormous. The 2013 report, commissioned by the Department of Health from Price Waterhouse Coopers and titled A Review of the Potential Benefits from the Better Use of Information and Technology in Health and Social Care, found that a potential £4.4billion per year could be reinvested in improving care – simply by making better use of information and technology.

From the economic benefits that reduce the cost of service and improve overall profitability, to the non-financial benefits that improve the quality of life and care experience for residents, service users and care workers, there are benefits aplenty to be had.

Yet, despite the range of likely benefits, the uptake of technology across the broader social care sector has been relatively slow off the mark.

A recent industry survey found that many from within the UK care sector believed that their own organisations were not taking advantage of technology. Almost 70 percent of respondents suggested that their organisation either “could do more” or “could do a lot more” when it came to making better use of technology.

It was these insights that inspired us to take a closer look at three of the most common challenges that are contributing to a sluggish uptake of technology in the social care sector. We also share some ideas on ways providers can address these issues – regardless of the size of the organisation.

1. Budget constraints

The reality of the social care sector is that, irrespective of size, many providers are already operating in a revenue-constrained environment, whereby budgets are already stretched to maximum capacity. Not surprisingly, the availability of funding to cover the investment costs of information and digital technology is one of the most obvious challenges.

Whether implementing new technology for the very first time or modernising existing technologies, the capital outlay required for infrastructure, hardware, implementation, maintenance and system upgrades can seem to be unaffordable for many organisations.

However, when you’re used to existing structures, systems and processes – even if they are inefficient – taking a step back to consider the ways to make improvements can be quite difficult. However, there are substantial gains that come with identifying issues, problems and challenges, then restructuring activities and investing in the right technology solutions to work through these.

When exploring and reviewing possible technology-based solutions, it is important to delve deeply into the specific benefits and understand how these can help your own organisation to improve efficiency, productivity, quality of care – areas that can all have a positive impact on the bottom line.

A clear, accurate view of the benefits – from a strategic and operational level, right through to the advantages for staff on the floor – can help showcase the inherent value of technology, making it easier to plan and obtain the necessary budgetary support from the top level.

Keep in mind, we’ve also come a long way from off-the shelf, one-size-fits-all, overpriced technology solutions. Advancements such as Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud computing are driving down the costs of social care-specific technology applications, making these solutions increasingly more affordable and cheaper to use.

2. Lack of internal resources

As it is, social care settings are renowned as frenzied hubs of activity so it is understandable that a perceived lack of internal resources can be another common obstacle when it comes to the introduction of new technology.

Larger social care organisations may have the workforce structures in place with dedicated IT managers and support staff to oversee the implementation of new technology, in addition to ongoing support and management of an IT system. However, the availability of similar resources are beyond the capabilities of many small to medium organisations. Where the internal resources required for IT management and support are simply not available, considerable pressure may be placed on staff who lack the expertise and qualifications to deal with these issues.

It’s important that your solution provider can offer you an adequate level of ongoing, personalised support to ensure that staff are not spending their valuable time having to manage the new structures and systems. Prospective technology providers should also offer multiple support channels by telephone, online and via email.

When you’ve made a commitment to invest in technology, another effective way to encourage the uptake of technology internally is to utilise your biggest influencers, or ‘IT champions’. An internal IT champion can act as the key point person to manage the project and act as the go-to resource between senior management and staff. They can also assist in lowering training costs and relieve support and troubleshooting requests, as they willingly impart their knowledge with colleagues. Read more about how to identify and engage influential leaders who understand and are excited by what technology can offer.

3. Resistance to technology

Resistance from staff towards change and technology as a factor preventing social care providers from making better use of technology is a common, yet interesting one.

People – by human nature – don’t respond well to change, and implementing new technology will almost always require varying degrees of change to take place. It is also widely recognised that the social care sector has often avoided adopting technology, based on a fear of the systems being too complicated or not suitable to the practical needs of delivering nursing and care. There is a very common opinion that care workers do not possess a high level of IT skills and capabilities, and therefore can be resistant when it comes to the concept of new technology.

But upward trends in technological change may suggest otherwise. According to the International Longevity Centre’s Care Home Sweet Home, there are now about 75 million mobile phone handsets in the UK, which equates to more than one per person. There are also an estimated 18 million fixed residential broadband connections in the UK. There is no doubt that the pace of technological change is accelerating at an exponential rate, and it is revolutionising every facet of our lives.

As in any sector, the level of IT skills and capabilities vary considerably in social care. And with time, even those staff with minimal experience will become increasingly computer literate and come to expect the same technology standards experienced elsewhere in their lives.

In the meantime, when it comes to successfully facilitating the implementation of new technology, a dedicated change management approach with appropriate communication, training and ongoing support for all staff is essential. With this tried and tested approach, the level of confidence that staff feel towards working with technology quickly increases, and resistance decreases.

In our next series of posts, we will be providing real case examples of how organisations have successfully overcome some of the above challenges. Are there more challenges your own organisation is facing? Or do you have suggestions for those who may be experiencing the challenges above? Please let us know in the comments below.

(Image credit: jscreationzs)