Interview: Simon Papworth of the Care Software Providers Association emphasises the need for data standards and to raise digital maturity in social care
There has been an awkward digital gap in the effort to integrate health and social care – in the space occupied by care providers.
Small businesses account for most of residential care sector and a lot of domiciliary care, and many have been slow to adopt digital technology, let alone get into the integrated care loop.
Simon Papworth says that attitudes are changing for the better, but that there is still a lot of work to be done and the care providers sector needs support to make it happen.
“I was talking to the MD of one of the larger companies who said he felt the market had reached a tipping point where care providers are looking to digital to solve their problems rather than being something they have to put up with,” he says.
Supporting the effort is one of the priorities of the Care Software Providers Association (CASPA), of which he is one of the founder members and recently represented at UKAuthority’s Digital Health and Social Care conference. It was formed earlier this year to bring together the sector’s specialist software suppliers, and currently has over 20 members with the number rising.
There have been initiatives to support care providers, such the recent creation of the Digital Social Care website to support the effort by NHS Digital, the Care Provider Alliance and Skills for Care. The potential benefits are well known: fewer hours on paperwork and more devoted to direct care; efficiencies, better coordination of care; faster internal audits; and increased transparency.
“I don’t think there’s a particularly long way to go to have basic interoperability around the likes of emergency scenarios, discharge letters from hospitals, GPs having access to care plans and recent sicknesses within care homes. I think that’s going to be in the next couple of years; there’s enough happening already with discovery and pilot funding.
“I think there’s a way to go to digital maturity to have that universally. Within two or three years 25% of care home providers will be grasping most of it, but to get above 75% could be 10 years away.”
Info sharing key
A key factor in the future of integrated care is enabling the care providers to share information more freely and securely with the NHS and local authorities. To support this, CASPA has been talking with care providers around issues including discharge letters, quality and compliance monitoring, plug and play between systems and the information they need to provide to others.
Along with this, Papworth sees the development of data standards across all three sectors as a crucial step.
“The technical standards are not a problem,” he says. “It’s the content of the data that is an issue. It’s more about data standards. The technical standards piece is well understood and quite easy; everybody has come onboard.
“It’s that thing about people in primary and secondary care thinking differently to the way social care providers think. Although there is a great deal of commonality in the data, there’s a vast richness in the social care field that doesn’t exist in primary care. And there’s a great deal of exactness in primary and secondary care that doesn’t map directly into social care.
“It’s a case of trying to find sufficient common ground, about finding common assessments as much as anything, and understanding each side. In hospitals they are automatically doing assessments for which the answers already exist in a care home, and if that data can be mapped across the assessment would be automatically delivered.”
He says this is not happening at the moment, but that a core part of CASPA’s mission is to support that will enable it and strengthen the integration.
Software firms ready
He adds that the software providers are ready, with packages that need amendments rather than complete redesigns to meet any standards, and that the companies in the industry are ready and eager to respond. This prompts him to hope that data from emergency admissions and discharge from hospital will be transferred “fairly universally” within three years.
There is also a willingness among the suppliers to work with new standards and show a degree of collaboration.
“We think that we can share standards and connectivity to the NHS amongst the software providers, so that if one piece of software is able to send data on a hospital admission, then it’s a relatively low cost, low development timescale for another piece to do the same.
“For instance, one of the member organisations holds a gateway into the NHS network, but provided all IT governance is met it is willing to share it with other members so the cost is reduced.”
Standards could also provide some clear benefits for local authorities. These include improvements in contract monitoring reports, a standard protocol for collecting care evidence and training records during any investigations of safeguarding cases, and the ability to benchmark clinical issues in collaboration with clinical commissioning groups.
It could also support their engagement with digital systems providers.
This underlies a call he put out at the conference that the organisation would like to hear from local authorities about what their suppliers’ systems could provide to make their lives easier. And this reflects the aim of CASPA, as a representative of a relatively small group of companies, to play an active role in the collaboration between all players in the care sector.