Working with leading developers in Augmented and Virtual Reality and a collaboration of five local authorities - supported by the Local Government Association’s Social Care Digital Innovation Programme - this project will co-design, develop and evaluate an augmented reality app enabling practitioners and people to better understand where there may be potential in their home to better meet their needs or manage risk by using aids, equipment or technology enabled care solutions.
The app will enable home assessors, practitioners, OTs, carers, family members and self funders to assess their homes for equipment, aids and improvements to enable them to stay independent and at home safely for longer. Such a digital tool also has the potential to support people with cognitive impairments, learning disabilities, mental health issues and people with any level of care and support needs.
This bid was originally submitted by Suffolk County Council to the LGA’s Social Care Digital Innovation Programme (SCDIP) in Spring 2019.
The project has been prioritised alongside the core funding programme as it was identified as having the potential to drive both frontline financial savings and a new approach to home assessments, both of which would be of interest and value to numerous councils. It specifically focuses on self-service and enabling people to assess and address their needs earlier than is currently possible, and seeks to reduce reliance on overstretched home assessment and OT teams.
In a very easy and accessible way this project has real potential in terms of moving adult social care forward with a new and innovative approach. As such the LGA has agreed to part fund this project alongside their wider SCDIP programme and is keen to see a group of councils join Suffolk to progress the work.
Suffolk has identified a software supplier who are specialists in VR & AR who will lead the development of the technology alongside subject matter experts from each co-funding council. The project will report into the SCDIP Board as it progresses and be independently evaluated by the Institute of Public Care.
Suffolk has confirmed that they undertake approximately 34,000 assessments per year, with around 15,000 receiving some kind of formal support.
Taking a model of 34,000 assessments per year, with the initial assessment taking around 30 minutes each (not factoring in administrative or travel time), then 2,125 working days are spent undertaking the initial adaptation assessment that this innovation would support; every year, just in Suffolk.
If just 20% of those assessments that would not receive formal support are undertaken via a self self-service model supported by this innovation, this would mean Suffolk undertakes 3,800 fewer assessments per year; saving (a conservative) 237.5 working days. This does not factor in the savings for frontline workers in terms of shortening the length or reducing the number of assessment visits due to the digital tool or diverting the request for assessments at all by enabling people and their families to ‘self-serve’.
The use of augmented and virtual reality in adult social care - and the public sector mode widely - is in the very early stages. But with the model of AR-enabled home improvements already proven in the private sector – e.g. Ikea Place et al, and with the widespread ownership of smartphones and tablets, this seems like a very accessible and valuable way to start engaging with the opportunities VR/AR presents.
As such it is a prime candidate for a council led collaboration, as many local authorities may not have the budget or resources to drive such a project, but as part of a group and collaboration - alongside leading AR/VR specialists from the private sector - the project can progress at a lower risk and shared cost.
As a council we are embedding our Digital Care Strategy so that increasingly, and as a first option where appropriate, we are looking to provide a technology enabled care solution to meet adult and children’s care and support needs. A particular challenge exists around keeping people safe and independent, and how we might take advantage of how digital solutions can aid this.
We recognise that there are clear risks and challenges associated with supporting people with cognitive impairment to continue to live independently in their own home. This cohort of people, whilst physically able to carry out daily living tasks, often needs a high level of guidance and support in how to carry out self-support tasks. This is usually provided in the way of a paid service or from a family carer, the first being at some cost to the local authority or person and the latter being a potential additional stress factor for family carers.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon that this home environment becomes too unsafe and the result is a move into more supported living, often with a decline in health as a result. We recognise that more often than not, “home” is the best place for a person to live and want to support people to remain living here for as long as possible.
An additional challenge around this is how we - and more importantly the people we support - are able to understand and visualise how aids, equipment and digital solutions might support the desired outcomes in their own home environment. The social care sector does not currently possess any technological solution capable of offering somebody choice and visualisation of risks in their own homes or products available to them; this could be as simple as understanding that you could raise your chair to reduce your risk of falling.
As a local authority we are continually trying to better manage our demand, working to reduced budgets (and therefore looking at how to meet old problems in new and more creative ways) and continuing to provide the best outcomes for people. Using virtual or augmented reality similar to that of the private sector could offer real benefits to both us, the social care sector and most importantly the people who we support.
* £15,000 in MVP phase with a further £35,000 for the implementation phase subject to NHS Digital/SCDIP Board approval.