The outbreak of Covid-19 has sped up the transformation of the care sector, forcing providers to experiment with new working models and seek technologies that help deliver care in a socially distanced society.
The Covid-19 crisis is bringing the importance of an innovative and technologically advanced care system to the forefront, as new technologies can play a crucial role in allowing care providers to continue operations despite virus-related disruptions. We have identified two major challenges that the care system is currently facing due to Covid-19 that will impact the trends in ‘social care tech’ in the near future.
Challenge 1: Social distancing measures
Home and social care agencies face heavy disruption to operations due to social distancing measures. As care work often requires close physical contact, most providers cannot deliver their full services while abiding by social distancing rules. In addition, patients are cancelling appointments to reduce their risk of infection.
The challenges of delivering care in a socially distanced manner are exacerbated by the fact that industry operators face shortages of basic medical supplies, with healthcare facilities being prioritised for the reception of these goods. Research by the Health Foundation highlights the risk of continuing to deliver care when PPE is limited. Their data indicates that social care workers are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to the general population. In contrast, staff working in the health care sector do not appear to have a statistically significant raised risk of death compared to the general population.
Solutions: Online consultation/communication
With delivering in-person care being associated with health risks for both care workers and recipients, it is likely that there will be increased interest in startups that provide ways of delivering care and support remotely. The Swedish startup Kind, which provides digital platforms that allow care workers to communicate with their patients remotely, had so many requests from their customers to scale the use of their tool in response to Covid-19, that they decided to make their services free for the duration of the crisis.
Beyond allowing for easy and secure communication digital care platforms provide additional functions that aim to meet key care needs. Another Swedish platform, Cuviva, has options that let relatives be involved in the caring process and provides secure ways of sharing medical data with healthcare providers.
Reducing the need for in-person care through smart home technology
The increased difficulties surrounding the delivery of home care might also spur a boom in ‘smart home’ technologies that aim to reduce the need for the presence of care workers by creating home environments that support wellbeing and safety. Solutions like those developed by Icelandic startup Alvican and Swedish company Nectarine Health, monitor the home environment through unobtrusive hardware. These sensors can help detect unusual changes in the home or a resident’s daily routine that might signal a need for support. When a worrying change is detected, family or carers are alerted to check up on the resident.
Challenge 2: Staffing shortages
Despite disrupted operations, COVID-19 is heightening demand for home care services. Many care and support workers are having to self-isolate, either because they are displaying symptoms themselves or have come into contact with somebody who has, or might have, the virus. In addition, resources have been diverted away from some industry services as health professionals focus on essential emergency care for critical patients with coronavirus, adding further strain to staffing shortages. A slump in social care job applications despite rising vacancies has highlighted the enormous challenge facing providers striving to keep their businesses fully staffed during the coronavirus pandemic. Data published by independent job board, CV-Library, revealed social care job applications fell by 17.8% year on year during the first quarter, despite the number of advertised jobs rising by 20.7%.
Recruitment and Staffing platforms
With an increased need for rapid recruitment in a socially distanced manner, it is likely that the demand for reliable online recruitment and staffing platforms will grow. Apps and websites that allow for the rapid deployment of care staff, like MedPeople and MyPick, have already been in use across the Nordics. However, both report that they have seen an increase in demand for staff since the Covid-19 outbreak.
They provide a highly appropriate form of recruitment during the crisis: qualified staff get matched to emergency vacancies in the health and care sector, allowing for a sped-up job-matching and selection process. All this can be done online, thus providing a recruitment process that is automatically compliant with social distancing measures.
Training and Certifying
In addition to speeding up the recruitment process for qualified care workers, it is likely that due to current shortages, care providers will seek to train and qualify new workers. A streamlined training process that can be carried out in a socially distanced manner, can help care providers tap into the pool of workers from harder-hit industries like hospitality that are temporarily or permanently out of work in their sector. An efficient re-skilling process can make these workers an asset to the care industry in a time of increased staff demand. It is likely that care providers will increase their use of online training platforms, like the one provided by the Finnish startup Memocate. Memocate provides an interactive learning environment with content based on cutting-edge research. By focusing heavily on user experience, online training platforms can, in addition to providing a cost-effective way of delivering training that complies with social distancing measures, also support employee performance and satisfaction.
To alleviate some of the pressure on care workers, volunteer initiatives have been set up across the Nordic and Baltic countries. In Lithuania, a collective of tech companies launched Stiprus Kartu, an online volunteering platform that matches volunteers with those in need. A similar platform called Vanemuine has been launched in Estonia, but with a focus on medical volunteers. By calling for volunteers to carry out simple tasks, such as delivering medicine and essential supplies and checking on a patient’s well-being at home, care workers can focus their attention where their expertise is needed.