Innovation and digital growth in the health, housing, and social care sectors

Innovation and digital growth in the health, housing, and social care sectors

Legrand Assisted Living & Healthcare CEO Chris Dodd explores the benefits of the digital premium for the health, housing, and social care sectors.

Legrand Assisted Living & Healthcare is a division of Legrand, a global specialist in electrical and digital building infrastructures. The Assisted Living unit, comprising the brands Aid Call, Neat, Jontek, Intervox, and Tynetec, aims to drive innovation and development in technology across assisted living, health and social care services: CEO Chris Dodd tells us more.

What key benefits do Legrand’s products offer within the health and social care sectors?

Legrand Assisted Living & Healthcare has a very proud history of providing assisted living solutions for over 30 years, primarily across mainland Europe and the UK. We have a number of sites across Europe where we design and manufacture innovative technology-based care solutions, which help elderly and vulnerable individuals to live in their own homes for longer than would otherwise be the case. The technology systems that we provide for assisted living are mainly used in the home or in specialised housing: this includes environments like sheltered accommodation, group living, nursing and retirement homes.

The technology does not set out to remove the need for carer services, but can, when combined appropriately, reduce that need; it may delay an increase in the services and support that a user needs or it may offset the need for a user to enter a care home. Most research suggests that an elderly or vulnerable person would prefer to remain in their own home for as long as possible receiving care where that is appropriate, so technological solutions are great for ensuring that people have the confidence and independence necessary to stay within their own home for as long as they desire to do so.

The technology we offer in a user’s home typically includes a connected home hub, which provides two-way communication with a monitoring centre; and personal or environmental triggers, which may include wearable wireless trigger pendants, automatic fall detectors, smoke detectors, movement sensors or medication reminder devices. Should an adverse event occur, the service user can press the button on their pendant or one of the environmental sensors will be triggered to automatically call for help or support: each home hub is connected to an alarm monitoring centre which is part of a wider network of call centres across Europe. The centre will then open an audio path for voice communication, which is unique to this service. The alarm monitoring centre operator can determine the issue by speaking with the user, provide reassurance and then co-ordinate the most appropriate response: this could entail contacting emergency services, or simply alerting the service user’s friends and family, carers, or doctor if they are needed to provide assistance.

There are many hundreds of these alarm monitoring centres across Europe operating within both the public and private sectors; and hundreds of thousands of calls are made every day. In many cases, the service is used not just as a reactive service; many service providers also use it for proactive support: to enable better social inclusion, to check on the welfare of service users who may not have family or carer support, or in some cases even to remind them to take their medication.

In your experience, has the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the development and adoption of new and emerging technologies? Have you encountered any particular challenges in developing or upscaling products to meet the increased need caused by the pandemic?

COVID-19 is a terrible, terrible virus; and our hearts go out to those that have been impacted, whether directly or as friends and family. From our perspective, working in the health and social care environment, we have had had some insight into how hard people work in those sectors – it’s just incredible, the effort that they are putting in on the frontline to manage and treat the virus.

We always knew, as a technology provider to the health and social care sector, that we were going to have to step up in terms of provision of our services and technology in the midst of this crisis; especially as people were shielding for several weeks at a time without the outside contact that they would normally have. Our first priority was to establish how best to continue ourselves. We had to put the appropriate measures in place to ensure that our manufacturing units would be able to continue throughout and that our back office services could function when working from home. Our front office teams – who would normally be out and about supporting our customers – had to embrace video technology to deliver advice and training remotely.

The alarm monitoring call centres which are essential to the service operate largely from fixed locations; and in some cases, their staff needed to be able to operate from home, so we had to put technology in place very quickly to make that possible. We had to provide training, technology and support to people working from home, overcoming various security needs and technical difficulties. Thereafter, we started to see a significant uptake in demand for our digital home hubs, which are much more easily deployed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has probably brought forward decisions to move to digital. Where previous technologies typically had to be delivered to the service user, installed in their property and manually configured, digital is much more ‘plug and play’ – in some cases you can even post out a device and it is then remotely configured via the cloud, so it has been much more versatile and appropriate for social distancing. This is important for the elderly and the vulnerable: many are concerned about COVID-19 and were reluctant to accept people coming into their home to install technology. In addition, because digital devices are always connected, they can be monitored in real time via the cloud much more easily than the legacy analogue devices that were out there.

How could better or wider access to technology-enabled care within the home improve service users’ quality of life, particularly during lockdown or quarantine measures?

The UK is making progress with the digital transition, but it is also one of the largest markets for assisted living, so it has a significant amount of legacy equipment which needs to be updated; we are seeing an increased focus from local government and health services on more community-based care within service users own homes, which adopts the principles of prevention and personalisation and which is often supported by technology.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to some great examples of how new and emerging technologies can be utilised in health and social care, from rapid and non-touch deployment, to cloud configuration, to managing the alarm units remotely. There is an immediate imperative to roll out digital systems and ensure service users are connected during the pandemic – but we also need to think in the longer term about ensuring that the technology is built into the housing development programmes: the case for investing in technology within housing, given the costs it could save in avoided hospital admissions, can be significant.

In early 2020, before the pandemic hit, we partnered with the Good Governance Institute to produce a white paper, ‘Unleashing the Digital Premium’, which goes a long way to describing the wider benefits of digital beyond just a technology shift. If we are going to take advantage of what the digital transition offers, there is a good deal of work to do; but the important thing is to have a plan. Unleashing the Digital Premium would go some way towards harnessing and exploring some of the opportunities on offer.

What could be done at the policy and procurement levels to ensure prompt and widespread adoption of technology and digital solutions within health and social care?

Supporting older people to maintain their own independence, wellbeing and dignity for longer has to be a priority; and digital presents a range of opportunities to enable independent living. Importantly, we can’t see this as a silo approach. There has to be collaboration at every level and in every sector – housing, social care, health – if the full potential is to be realised. There is also a need for a huge education and communication plan to enable the successful deployment of technology on a greater level – the education and training side is important, but it’s often overlooked and underfunded.

How do you see Legrand Assisted Living & Health Care progressing in the future?

We see digital as an enabler, accelerating the move from the traditional model, which has been largely reactive, to something that helps our service providers and partners to enhance their offering, using technology much more proactively. Digital tools can gather data, to deepen understanding of service users’ needs; share data to signpost potential health and social care issues earlier; and provide data-related assistance to trigger interventions, improve diagnosis, and ultimately improve quality life. With suitable algorithms in place, we could envisage systems which not only react to events but predict events that are likely to happen in the near future and could be avoided with a suitable intervention.

Digital opens up the future; it opens up many possibilities in terms of our ability to manage and engage with service users being cared for at home – and moving to a predictive model, with the right support services, would enable adverse incidents to be avoided where possible, with great benefit to the service user who wishes to remain independent within their own home. As a company, we have been leading in the transition to digital and all of our technologies are now digitally enabled; we are very clearly on a path to building systems which will be able to realise even greater benefits in the future.

This article is from issue 16 of Health Europa. Click here to get your free subscription today.

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