Blog / A Story of Technology Improving Care

Alistair Ewing: January 07, 2020

Alistair Ewing is a Senior Product Manager with NDS. In this post, he shares a highlight from his recent tour of Scotland meeting people involved in anticipatory care planning. 

One of the first things you learn at product management school is that the best way to start a new role is to get out of the bubble of your office and spend time with the people involved in your new world to understand the challenges they face day to day. So, given that I’m a) part of the team working on NDS’ first product, ReSPECT, and Anticipatory Care Planning and b) a newcomer to health and social care, I’ve invested a lot of time in my first few months meeting a wide range of health and care professionals across the country. 

From Dumfries in the south west to Shetland in the (very) north east; I’ve met hospital consultants, GPs, care home owners, Scottish Government policy leads, IT managers, health improvement officers, Out of Hours GP service contact handlers, national charity communication leads, and paramedics. Those meetings have taken place in a diverse set of locations, from care homes to hospices, to A&E and even in an Ambulance. [Please note that since the initial users for ReSPECT will be health and care professionals, we have yet to engage directly with citizens for this particular product, but we will be doing so later this year.] 

Out of all the conversations I’ve had so far, one in particular stands out. It was a driech Friday at the end of October, and I took the bus from Edinburgh to visit Buccleuch & St Margarets Care Centre, an independent care home in Hawick. As I approached the building, which I later discovered to have been originally built as a Dominican Convent in the early 1900s, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It seemed light years away from the modern Forth Valley Royal Hospital or our shiny home in the Bayes Centre where I spend most of my time. Knowing that product management isn’t really about products, but in-fact all about people and asking good questions, I progressed undeterred, confident that I would learn lots even if I couldn’t predict in advance what I’d learn. 

A story of technology improving care and not getting in the way 

I was greeted by Lisa, the care home’s manager, and got settled in her office by the main door of the centre. We had a generous and wide-ranging conversation, but the thing that surprised me the most was the enthusiasm that she and her team had for the software they used in the centre. Glowing feedback from front-end users of health and care technology was not something I’d heard much or in fact anything about in my time with NDS until then.  

The makers of the care monitoring application that Buccleuch & St. Margarets use are the Guildford-based ‘Person-Centred Software’. The application is used by all of the carers in the centre on a mobile device which they carry around with them to support individual resident’s care, with a management interface used by Lisa and her senior team to provide an overview of care across the centre. It even provides access to family members both to keep informed of their relative’s care and also to share photos and stories. 

Rather than getting in the way, Lisa described her software as improving the care provided. Right from the outset when a new resident joins the centre those first care plans are recorded and on a day-to-day basis, the carers are guided to ensure the right care at the right time with an intuitive touch screen app on a device which is natural to them as their own personal phone.  If a resident should leave the centre, the software allows staff to provide a full set of handover notes to the next place of care. While Lisa hadn’t introduced this software to her care home herself, the processes she’d set up around the product demonstrated how software can contribute directly to the quality of life for residents, their families and the care team supporting them. 

The importance of people-centred leadership  

As well as understanding the technology the care home used, I’m always interested in people’s stories and Lisa was kind enough to share hers. After working for a family business for over twenty years, Lisa moved to work for a small local care home after her father died and the business was sold. Through hard work she worked her way up from care assistant to senior carer to manager of that care home, and then took on the responsibility for managing the 51 bed home where we met. I came into that conversation with several pre-conceptions such as there being high turnover rates of staff and that care homes are just a place to spend the last few months of life (the average stay across Scotland is 14 months). But I was pleased to be wrong and clearly learned that with strong leadership and strong operations, not only can there be high staff retention and satisfaction rates, it can often be the case that people enjoy a marked improvement in their quality of life. 

Turning conversations into insights and actions 

As a product team, having insights into our users’ environment is important, but acting on those insights is key. So once I got back from Hawick, we did two things to reflect what we had heard: 

  1. Building on the wider series of conversations,we wrote a detailed story of how life in a care home could be different in the near future with the National Digital Platform and ReSPECT to support sharing health records. We’ll be sharing this story in a future post. 
  1. We started to plan a pilot project with‘Person Centred Software’ to understand how to make that future a reality.  

Lisa’s story about her commitment to caring for others was inspiring and fitted with the pattern I’d seen repeatedly across the health and care sector and I’m so grateful for all the welcoming and committed people who made and continue to make time to meet me and the wider team to better understand the realities at the point of care.

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