Researchers call for digital route map to prevent sector being left behind 

Date posted

5 April 2022


Care homes for older people in south-east Scotland are largely run using paper-based management systems, a new study into the sector’s digital readiness has revealed.

Only one in three (35 per cent) used an electronic care management system and only two in five (43 per cent) used an electronic system or software to manage medication.

Most care homes were also dogged by poor connectivity. Only two in five in SE Scotland (42 per cent) described their internet connection as “good” with fast loading of content and no interruptions.

And nearly two thirds (58 per cent) of the care homes which provided information reported that remote electronic access to resident information was not possible for any key health and community-based professionals.

The findings emerged from a study led by Edinburgh Napier researchers working in partnership with the University of Edinburgh’s Advanced Care Research Centre (ACRC).

Funded by the Data-Driven Innovation programme, the work was set against a backdrop of Scottish Government proposals for a National Care Service and the related construction of a National Digital Platform.

However, the findings raise question marks about whether care homes are ready for a future in which digital innovation will be key to post-pandemic recovery and improved efficiency in health and social care.

Head and shoulders image of Lucy Johnston, wearing a white top

Research lead Lucy Johnston, from Edinburgh Napier’s School of Health & Social Care, said fast connectivity, capacity for data capture and information sharing capabilities were “limited and unevenly dispersed”.

Calling for more support and coordinated resources for the sector, she concluded: “This targeted assessment of data and digital readiness exposes the fragile and insecure foundations of a care home data platform for Scotland.

“The findings confirm that care homes are only in the foothills of what is a complex, vast landscape where the direction of travel is rightly ambitious and therefore uphill and the pace is fast.

“To ensure care homes are not left behind, they require a trusted, well-informed and certain national and local route map, secure ties to the new and developing infrastructures and continued integration of health and social care services.”

The study - Landscape Assessment of Data and Digital Readiness of Scottish Care Homes (LADDeR) – was set up to map current data and digital readiness in terms of connectivity, systems for collecting resident data, and how this information is shared with other care partners.

Carried out from July 2021-January 2022, the LADDeR report drew on information from 55 per cent of the 200 registered residential care homes for older people in Edinburgh, Fife, the Lothians and the Scottish Borders, collected through an online survey, direct contact and additional research.

A third of homes gave the cost of introducing digital systems as a reason why they remain paper-based.

More than two-thirds (69 per cent) which are currently paper-based did plan to introduce electronic care management systems in the next 12 months, but these were overwhelming privately rather than local authority-owned.

The study suggested that what will primarily drive increases in digital capabilities may be the investment decisions of larger group providers.

Professor Bruce Guthrie, Director of the ACRC, added: “Improving access to, and making better use of, data is a core aim of what we are trying to achieve at the ACRC.

“COVID-19 brutally exposed how invisible care home residents are in data, and supporting the care home sector to develop their digital capacity is an important step in meeting this aim, which will, in turn, lead to improvements for care home residents.

“This study helpfully illustrates the scale of the challenge in care homes.”

A spokesperson for the DDI programme said: “This report provides an important insight into the care home sector’s challenge in embracing a digital future and we will use its findings in our work to support a more digitally integrated and data-driven health and care sector within SE Scotland and more widely.”

Download the study here