Data Conference 2020: Delivering better care

Technology developed by smart use of data could revolutionise how we care for the elderly in particular, finds Susan Dalgety.
Technology developed by smart use of data could revolutionise how we care for the elderly in particular, finds Susan Dalgety.Technology developed by smart use of data could revolutionise how we care for the elderly in particular, finds Susan Dalgety.
Technology developed by smart use of data could revolutionise how we care for the elderly in particular, finds Susan Dalgety.

A data revolution in care for the elderly will help people stay at home as they age, by providing personalised and affordable support.

The virtual conference session Can Data Deliver a Real Revolution in Care? explored how collaboration across sectors, fuelled by data, has the potential to change social care for the better – including the Advanced Care Research Centre (ACRC), a £20 million collaboration between Legal & General and the University of Edinburgh launched early this year.

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Professor Lynne Baillie, director of the Interactive and Trustworthy Technologies Research Group at Heriot-Watt University, told delegates that one key principle was to support people to “age in place” – to live at home or in a familiar community as long as possible.

“That is very important”, she said, explaining how data and robotics can compress functional decline and help older people, including those with dementia and related conditions, enjoy more active and fulfilling lives.

“One of the things that we can look at is using sensors to see if there are new patterns in the activities of daily living. We can then intervene and ask questions, to find out whether the person is unwell for another reason. Or are they moving from one stage of dementia to the other, actually worsening? That’s the kind of support that could potentially be put in place.”

Baillie believes that the growing use of smartphones with health apps means people will become more receptive to sensors collecting data in a home setting, which will help rehabilitation and prevention.

“People are wearing and carrying mobile phones with sensors in them, wearing Apple watches, and so on. So, I think we can actually do a lot more on the prevention side, as well support people after they have been discharged.”

Professor Ian Underwood, of the University of Edinburgh, is an expert in sensor technology and is leading on skills for the ACRC project. He maintains that gathering data will help clinicians predict when people will need extra support.

“There are technologies that tell us when people are falling over and may need assistance to get up. But hopefully, as we

gather much more data and we can start to predict when people are in a phase of their life when they’re more likely to fall. Then we would provide them with support, which would reduce the number of falls or even prevent those falls.”

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Underwood also welcomed the opportunity the centre offers its PhD students across disciplines, saying: “This is intended to broaden their scope, so that we send them out into the world with a much better toolset for tackling the kind of problems they will face, and the skills to become leaders in the care sector – leaders who will be capable of reaching across all the different aspects, communicating with different communities and provoking transformation in the care sector.”

Dr Susan Shenkin, a senior clinical lecturer in geriatric medicine at the University of Edinburgh, claimed the NHS is becoming more expert in the use of data. She said: “Data is already collected as part of routine care and often used, with appropriate safeguards, to support research projects that improve outcomes for patients and the way we do things in hospitals and the community. There’s even a hashtag, #datasaveslives.

“And data can be used to help answer really important questions. We’ve seen that with Covid, how quickly we’ve been able to use some of these data to answer questions.

“But people who want to use routinely collected healthcare data have to understand how it is collected and the limitations of it. It’s not a panacea, but it’s definitely part of the picture.”

John Godfrey, of Legal &General, the UK’s largest pension provider and a founding partner of ACRC, said better use of data will benefit care workers and people generally.

“Longer, healthier, happier lives are a massive benefit in themselves,” he said. “Economists typically talk about ageing populations as a bad news story, but it isn’t as long as the ageing population has a decent quality of life with better care, prevention and condition management at an earlier stage, and people age in place.

“We talk a lot about the recipients of care in this project, but we also talk a lot about those who work in the sector. Hopefully, they will enjoy better career progression, more opportunities and, frankly, nicer work, if they can make better use of data.

“We also hope that the ACRC project will push forward a lot of new ideas and technologies, which will catch on much more widely, not just in Scotland and the UK.

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“There is an opportunity for us to become a world leader in the provision of care as a result of really sitting down and thinking deeply about this across all disciplines.”

‘Data is the driving force of the modern economy’

Data can help tackle a range of social problems and has been crucial in the fight against Covid-19, according to a UK government minister.

Iain Stewart MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, sent a short recorded message to the conference on behalf of the UK government.

He said that Edinburgh’s Global Open Finance Centre of Excellence would “use real data to understand how consumers and businesses spend and save across the world”.

Stewart added: “Data is the driving force of the modern economy and can solve a range of societal problems.

“It has been one of our most powerful and versatile weapons against coronavirus, tracking the movement of vital hospital equipment, and keeping supermarket shelves stocked and sending groceries to the most vulnerable.”

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