The rise of self-service social care

John Boyle

Imagine you’ve been asked to think up a really difficult technical challenge. Well how about delivering health and social care on line, using self-service portals, to frail and elderly citizens?

For good measure, imagine that those people need your services to be as simple and familiar as Amazon or Google and that the people funding you are Local Authorities, facing budget cuts in the order of 60%. Oh and you have to ensure accessibility – from PCs, tablets, mobile phones, and smart TVs and support off-line working in rural communities. It could be described as a perfect storm.

Care Act banner

To encapsulate the challenge, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, ADASS, has published a paper on “the development of online services for information and advice supporting the Care Act 2014”, which gives an excellent overview.

Self-service has to succeed

We need to succeed with this challenge if we are to enable individuals, and their carers or agents, to help themselves to plan for and obtain timely care, mainly through resources in the community and care suppliers. Those with high needs will be able to use tools to support a dialogue with the council around self-assessment and start the process towards council funding or applying for care accounts.

The reality is that only self-service will allow citizens to continue to receive quality support with all the well versed pressure on health and social care budgets – our aging society and the increase in administrative duties on Councils brought about by the Care Act, estimated at a 60% increase, on average, per Council.

The paper highlights that, where a person applies for council services or a care account, the information should transfer to the council’s back office system through an “open API“. This is vital, if we are to avoid the age old dilemma of people filling in information online but then have to tell their story over and again to different professionals. It also discusses the Government Digital Service principles behind good design of websites. For example, there has been a tendency to use pictures to make social care sites feel friendly but the paper points to modern research that shows this does not work.

The potential savings of self-service portals have been analysed by Socitm who have shown the relative costs of different forms of contact:

  • On-line information contacts cost £0.09
  • Telephone contacts cost £2.59
  • Face to face contacts cost £8.15

It’s a massive difference, and one that could mean millions of pounds of cost, or savings, depending on how councils choose to approach this challenge in the next few years.

How can self-service make a real difference, both for stretched Local Authorities and Citizens?

One example is triage using our Online Financial Assessment tools – with simplified needs and financial assessment questionnaires to help people see whether they are likely to be funding themselves or whether they might qualify for supported care.

Another example is for council IT systems such as ContrOCC to accept online self-referrals from citizens, completing as much workflow as possible before handing it over to the council.

The paper also makes reference to OCC’s work on micro commissioning or mini-tendering, where authorities are enhancing their directories so that they can send out a package of needs and ask suppliers to come back with priced offers to meet them.

The paper makes a number of references to our work at CarePlace and one to East Sussex 1Space. Not many other eMarketPlaces get a mention so we are really proud to see the collaborations we have with our customers clearly at the forefront of the challenge.